With some families in Cayman finding it hard to put food on the table, the spectre of not even being able to have a roof over their heads looms large.
The latest figures for the number of families in Cayman receiving financial assistance from the government through the Department of Children and Family Services show that in 2012, 454 families received help in paying their rent. This is a decrease in the number of families being assisted in 2011, when the department helped pay the rent for 497 families.
Last year, the department also provided food for 1,365 families and as of 5 April this year, was helping to feed 679 families in the Cayman Islands.
The Child and Family Services Department helps families and individuals who cannot afford to pay for their own accommodation after doing a needs assessments and gives temporary financial assistance for monthly rental payments, though not for mortgages.
Director of Children and Family Services Jen Dixon explained: “The Department does provide temporary financial assistance for rent and/or other basic necessities such as food, electricity and water bills. The Department will also assist with school lunches, pre-school fees and school uniforms.
“Financial assistance may be provided on a one time basis or for a period of up to three months depending on available funding. After three months, the situation has to be reviewed to determine the need for any additional financial assistance.”
The department carries on a needs assessment on those who apply for temporary financial assistance. “This includes looking at and verifying their income, documenting their expenses and identifying if there is a shortfall in them being able to meet their basic need for food, shelter, etc,” Ms Dixon said.
Financial aid for food and rent are usually recurring for up to three months, depending on available funds, while utility bill payments are usually one-time payments.
Priority is given to families with children younger than 18, the elderly or people who are terminally or chronically ill, unable to work and unable to meet their needs.
“If the person is unemployed, the Department still conducts a needs assessment looking at their expenses, what supports they may have via family or other means to meet their needs and determine what financial assistance, if any, they may require,” the director explained.
While the Department of Children and Family Services does not assist homeowners with their mortgage payments – only rental payments – in some circumstances, following a needs assessment, the department will help with other expenses so that the family can use their available funds to meet their mortgage payments.
“However, our assistance is short term and not a long-term solution to someone’s inability to meet mortgage payments. Our aid usually includes help with school lunches for the family’s child or children, food, one off payments of utility bills for electricity or water or pre-school fees,” Ms Dixon said.
She said that from time to time, someone will approach her department who is temporarily homeless. In those situations, a social worker will explore options with the individual as they may be able to stay with family or friends.
“If they have no options, DCFS will assist with rental, but again our aid is temporary and not ongoing, except in rare instances or in particular where an individual is elderly,” she said.
Beulah McField of Meals on Wheels sees poverty daily and despairs of the number of people who are badly struggling in the Cayman Islands.
“There are so many people living below the poverty line,” she said, adding that rising utility costs, food prices and gas costs are pushing them further into debt.
While Meals on Wheels’ mandate is to provide food for the elderly of the Cayman Islands, “in the process of doing that, we come across so many families that are struggling. They don’t have hot meals and their cupboards are bare”.
“Our challenge is how do we get food into these homes without depleting the small amount of funds Meals on Wheels has,” she said.
With the help of some local companies and individuals, the organisation has food drives to try to collect food for badly off families. “People come and drop off food so we have a food closet where people can come and pick up something they can take home to feed themselves,” she said.
“It’s so sad. People are losing their homes,” she said, adding that an initiative announced in December 2011 for mortgage repayment assistance was only a temporary stopgap and merely delayed their inability to pay their mortgages. “The only ones that benefited from that were the banks,” she said. “People’s homes are still in jeopardy.”
She wants to see more of the major companies in Cayman invest in helping to pull Caymanians out of poverty, by getting more involved in charities and implementing retraining programmes to give people new skills to make them more employable. “They have to be better corporate citizens,” she said.
“We are a wealthy nation and there is no reason for one person to lose their home or go hungry in Cayman,” Ms McField said.