The problem of homeless addicts on the streets of Aruba is one that sadly keeps growing every year, and until now, there is no concrete solution for this. Hand4Addicts is a foundation focused on providing help, beyond food, for this group. Founder and president of this foundation, Nicole de Cuba, explains where the idea came from to start this foundation, and what kind of work they do.
De Cuba explains that the idea started when she was volunteering with the Red Cross Aruba, and they had a budget to give homeless addicts something to eat every week; but then that budget was slashed.
She started providing the help on her own, with loaves of bread, juice, etc. With other people’s initiative at the time, people who no longer live on Aruba, it was decided to have a BBQ, which ended up becoming a big event and right there people started making donations of what was needed at that moment, like clothing, food and other essential items.
After this big event, De Cuba together with her team from that time decided to start selling cakes to gather funds to officially set up the foundation.
Every month, once a month – mostly the last week of the month since the person has not received their social welfare yet – Hand4Addicts go to the area behind Rancho, behind the parkinglot of Mango by the main street, and provide help for the addicts. They come with a ‘bath’, which they received from a sponsor, and they received other materials from other sponsors while the Fire Department helps with water. The foundation provides clothes as well, and food to take away.
“We are there from morning until noon, or from noon until evening, depending on the situation. Practically they receive a shave and haircut, they eat, they have a bath. They come to chat and they know us for a long time already. I’ve been doing this for around seven or eight years already”, De Cuba told us.
De Cuba added that in december, because she doesn’t eat meat, she used to prepare ham for the addicts and sit and talk with them. She explains that the holidays are a very emotional time for the addicts because they are on the streets and have no family, they don’t have anyone.
“We go to them, and they gained the confidence and they respect us, they defend us completely. And at the end of the day, when they’re done eating, they chat and tell us the good and the bad that they have done”, she said.
Regarding help from official agencies in charge of social welfare, De Cuba said that she finds it regrettable that on Aruba there is a system that is not working 100% to give support to this group.
She commented that a lot of the homeless addicts have had problems since they were young, grew up in orphanages of Casa Cuba or Imeldahof; or they have problematic parents where they saw drugs from an early age and were victims of abuse. Most of them come with a history that causes them pain, and using drugs is the only way which they can find an escape.
De Cuba highlights that she’s met with the Governor, who back then called on her. She’s met with various ministers of the current government, the old government, many times; and she says the plans that they have put forward, she sees them as clouds: plans which come, but are never realized.
She mentioned Centro Colorado, FMAA – where she herself did an internship a long time ago. But she saw the situation an at the time the place was in a very poor condition, had no structure, and a lot of the addicts said that they rather be on the streets than at the center. De Cuba emphasizes that she doesn’t know what the place is like currently, but from what she knows, a lot of people who come in said that they are allowed only one mistake, then they’re out and back on the streets.
In positive cases where the addict managed to beat his addiction, De Cuba said that this is usually specifically because of the initiative of the addict’s family. She said there isn’t an agency that medically takes care of them, a lot of them don’t carry a health insurance card or ID or anything. Their medical condition is poor where many of them have STDs, infections, cuts on their hands, they get into fights, etc., but often – unless they themselves walk from the city centre to the hospital in the northern area of the islands to receive help and then walk back to the city centre – they just remain on the streets without receiving medical help.
De Cuba says that she has spoken to the minister of Justice and Social Affairs, Rocco Tjon about a case involving a young man on the streets, who they are trying to help because he is underage and his father is also an addict. She explains that she speaks to the minister regarding specific cases that are really difficult, but she emphasizes that there isn’t a good team or source of care for this problem. There are agencies and foundations that help, but it’s not always the same. “For years already this is a group that is seriously neglected and even though I understand that they are annoying – they break in, they steal, they are rude to people – I understand that is annoying for us non-addicts. But on the other side, I also understand their addiction”, she added.
De Cuba tells the story of a case where an addict managed to beat his addiction and received the help he needed to stand back on his feet. This person managed to get a job, but when his colleagues recognized him as a former homeless addict, a ‘choller’, he became a victim of bullying to the point where he fell back into drugs. “Aruba’s social problem is a lot bigger than what they can handle.”
De Cuba commented that before she was a volunteer with the Red Cross, she used to pass judgement and she highlights that this is the mentality with which that a lot of people were brought up. But when she found out the other side of the story and actually talked to the addicts – even though they lie here and there – she understood the root of the problem. “What I always say is to just take the chance before you judge one of these people, instead of scolding them, yelling at them, push them away from you, just treat them as a person, and you will see a completely different behavior, who they really are”, she finalized.