Rush for help

Thousands of Nadi residents waiting outside of Prince Charles Park for their chance to apply for the HOMES-CARE assistance May 15. Picture: FT FILE

THOUSANDS of Nadi residents who slept in cars and out in the open on Wednesday night to avoid the rush for government’s HOMES-CARE assistance, returned home disappointed and frustrated. Arriving in droves outside Nadi’s Prince Charles Park from 8pm on Wednesday, the crowd was told about 7.30am yesterday that the program was deferred because the Homes-CARE assistance team was still stuck in Sigatoka.

When a team from this newspaper arrived at the park at 7.30am, they witnessed people pushing and shoving their way to the front of the park gates. Soon after a government official addressed the crowd and advised people to return to their homes and wait for the announcement of the rescheduled date.

While many left the area, a large group of mostly elderly people waited until 9am.

They said they were hoping for a change of heart from those in charge of disbursing the cards. Meanwhile, when The Fiji Times team arrived at Lawaqa Park in Sigatoka, the HOMES-CARE team that worked overnight from Wednesday was still trying to process 7900 applications.

The gates to the park had been closed, leaving hundreds of unserved residents waiting in line. In Nadi, the crowd were clearly upset about the change in timetable.

Tunalia resident Sadanarayan, 78, said he was a poor man who needed as much help as he could get. “That’s why I waited from 8pm last night (Wednesday) and slept in my car,” he said.

“I don’t have any money. I get very little from Social Welfare so when something like this comes up, I will come and apply for it.”

His neighbour Sukh Raj, 88, also slept in the back of a vehicle for 10 hours hoping to get a piece of the funds offered.

Another Tunalia resident Sashi Praba, 56, said she left her home at 1am.

“I walked two hours to get to the main road and then caught a minibus to come to town,” said the single mother of three.

“By the time I got here, there was already a big line near the park.”

A few residents from Lavusa had taken time-off from work to wait in line. “It’s disappointing because some of us asked for day off from work so we could be here,” said an angry worker.

“I can’t be asking for time- off and day off every week to come and apply for assistance I’ve been waiting for since last month.”

Maqalevu resident Ram Sharma said he pitied the elderly women who waited all night.

“The gates were locked to us and they couldn’t even open the bathrooms and toilets for us to use while we waited. It’s very sad and disappointing especially for those who came from afar and had to wait from the night before,” he said.

Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation Mereseini Vuniwaqa, said the ministry was doing its best to serve every person who applied for the assistance.

“I can assure our Nadi residents that our team will come to Nadi and we will be advertising the confirmed date and venue on Wednesday next week,” she said.

“From this, we have had to make some changes and we will be extending the application process in each centre over a period of two days.”

She said their HOMES-CARE team would be in Lautoka’s Shirley Park today. Acting Prime Minister and Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum told Parliament there was no CARE initiative in the budget estimate for the current financial year.

“In the budgetary allocation, we did have some contingency funds set aside for such events,” he said.

“Of course the funding was not to the tune of approximately $F58 million which is what we have already spent but as you also know that when you do have these types of expenses come up, there is something called redeployment of funds and they can be sourced from within.”