photo: Laura Bijnsdorp

PHILIPSBURG – “At our age you are supposed to be able to relax,” says Christina Hodge, who is in her seventies. Christina’s kitchen was destroyed during hurricane Irma: “I am not sure how I am going to be able to rebuild it.”

Raymond Jesserun, vice-president of the St. Maarten Seniors and Pensioners Association (SMSPA) notes that there are many more in Christina’s situation: “Our senior citizens aren’t just struggling because of the hurricane; they were having a hard time long before that.”

High numbers
In 2013, Pyt Lucas finalized a report ‘Sint Maarten Elderly Research’, commissioned by the Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labour. The report shows high numbers of elderly that deal with issues such as poor nutrition, loneliness, poverty, lack of transportation, chronic disease and substandard housing.

“With the passing of hurricane Irma, these issues are further perpetuated and compounded by the damages to homes”, explains Makhicia Brooks, representative of the St. Maarten Development Fund (SMDF). “Even those seniors who were relatively self-sufficient prior to the storm are now dependent on external support for home repair as they cannot manage the costs associated with construction repairs,” she adds.

Unrealistic AOV
In the ‘Sint Maarten Elderly Research’ report, 49.7 percent of seniors indicated that they do not have enough income to pay their monthly bills.

Linda Richardson, who is 68, washes clothes on the side for an extra bit of cash and is thankful for her kids that occasionally help her out. “I don’t know how they expect us to get by”, Linda says exasperatedly.

Christina Hodge standing on her former kitchen floor. Photo: Laura Bijnsdorp

Christina points out that there are plenty of seniors on Sint Maarten are not eligible for AOV, due to the fact that they are not registered properly: “A friendly elderly man I know lives in a car. I give him food and a bit of help from time to time.”

Half as much
The maximum amount AOV on Sint Maarten is 1065 guilders, which is around 495 euros. AOV for a single person is the Netherlands is net 1107 euros. Raymond: “The cost of living here is higher than in the Netherlands and yet our AOV is not even half as much!”

He also mentions that over 70 percent of seniors do not have added income in the form of work-related pension.

24 homes
On December 1st, SMDF signed agreements with contractors for the repair of 24 houses as part of its Senior Relief Project.Brooks: From our own intake, we know of approximately 113 persons affected by hurricane Irma. Including some information we have gathered from partner NGOs, we know of over 160 seniors in need of home repair. SMDF will be repairing more homes in the future.

One room of Peter’s house has already collapsed

The waiting game
71-year-old Peter Hodge has lived in Sint Maarten since he was 6. He worked at the fire department, as a mechanic and in a casino. His home was built with the help of friends in 1969.

Carefully balancing on his walking stick, Peter slowly walks towards his home. One room has completely collapsed and he is afraid that the same will happen to the rest of his house. “One good shake and the rest of the roof and my walls will fall.” He says while pointing at the large cracks and loose concrete chucks around him.

Peter: “Back in the day you could count on the community to help you out. Now you need money…”