A 32-year-old mother of five children who was shot near her Morne Du Don, Castries home last year is appealing for help from the government as she explores ways to either leave the tough inner-city community or at least get land to build a more spacious and secure residence.
Suzanna Cooper sustained gunshot wounds to her shoulder and finger on November 13, 2013. Though the bullet was removed from her shoulder and has since healed, she has done five surgeries so far on the finger – one in November, another in December and two in April. She did the fifth surgery yesterday (June 30) at Victoria Hospital.
Cooper, who described herself as an innocent victim, told SNO that she had just arrived home from the city and stopped by a friend called ‘Fatty’ who sells “things” nearby when the shooting took place.
“As soon as I was giving her the money I hear one shot. I say ‘Fatty’ gunshot! Go down! By the time I go down…I feel like my hand hurting me. When I look I see I get shot in my finger and one in my shoulder,” she said.
The mother said she has no clue why she was shot and who shot her.
“I don’t know the people. I don’t have any trouble with no-one. Up to now I don’t know why is me,” she stated.
Cooper said Morne Du Don has become more dangerous over the years.
“Every time is a gunshot. Look just last week they had shots by my home, just by my house,” she noted. “For now I just need a safe place for my kids.”
The security guard, who lives with all five children – ages 15,13,9, and six-year-old twins – said
her financial burden has worsened as a result of the injuries sustained from the shooting. She said the first three children are for the same father and the twins are for a different man.
Cooper told St. Lucia News Online (SNO) in an exclusive interview that each surgery costs $1,500 and the medication “costs a lot”. She has been “in and out of work” because of the injuries.
When SNO asked how she manages, she replied: “I just try my best.”
The hardworking mother said despite her financial hardships she has ensured that none of her children sleep hungry and they “never miss a day of school”.
“If they sick I stay home same time,” she added.
Cooper desperately wants to leave Morne Du Don which has been the scene of several homicides and shootings over the past year.
“Right now I just need to move out of deh,” she stated, adding that it is difficult to move because of the number of children she has.
“But all the houses I getting, the owners saying they not renting for people with kids. I have to try to get help from government… up to now.”
Cooper and her common-law-husband have applied twice to the Ministry of Physical Development, Housing and Urban Renewal for housing assistance.
She said the first letter was submitted in January 2014 and addressed to “Ministry of Physical Development, Housing and Urban Renewal. To the Project Coordinator of the Gaboo Lands Project.”
It stated (verbatim): “Dear Sir/Madam: At present the home I reside continue to put my family at risk and my hope of safe housing is my major short coming and this is why I seek the assistance from the PROUD unit/project.
“Please consider me as a beneficiary seeking an available vacant lot during the (PROUD) Programme for the Regularization of Unplanned Development as the Gaboo Lands or preferably the Bosi Orange project site.
“This request is being made as we are financially constrained and my common law wife at the time was an innocent victim of a shooting in the Morne Du don Community. Also residing with us is five children. The location where I reside is in the immediate vicinity of gun violence and hence is the reason why the family is not safe and I seek the assistance of the PROUD project within the Urban Renewal Division.
“We are presently employed. But I am still on medical leaf from work while I continue to recover from the gunshot wounds I sustained. Therefore I am informing the division of my interest to purchase one lot of residential land to enable me to provide myself with a safer home.
“Given the assistance, we are prepared to put in our best effort to deal with the financial responsibility given the present situation of our housing accommodation and financial constrains.”
Cooper claimed she did not get a response to this letter so she reapplied again – almost two months later.
“Because I need it bad. Rent take up all my money,” she said.
The second letter was submitted on February 24, 2014 and addressed to the “Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Physical Development, Housing and Urban Renewal for attention to the “Project Co-ordinator Michael “Gaboo” Alexander Lands Project”.
The letter reads (verbatim): “The home in which we; together with our five (5) children, are presently living in continues to place our family at risk, due primarily to the emergence of gun violence in the vicinity of our community at Morne du-don. This situation has developed in recent times and has since rendered our hopes of safe housing frightening.
“Consequently we are compelled to seek your assistance through the Programme for the Regularization of Unplanned Development (PROUD) Unit, for possible consideration as a beneficiary of any available and affordable residential lands for the construction of a family home, either on the lands known as “Gaboo” Lands in Morne-du-Don or the Bois D’Orange Crown lands project. We are prepared to lease or purchase a residential lot in either location to enable us to build a safer home.
“Though we are both presently working, our request is being made against the background of our financial constraints. In addition, Suzanna, my common law wife became an innocent victim of a shooting incident near our home and is still recovering from the gunshot wounds which she sustained.
“In the event that our request is favourably considered, we can be contacted at the following numbers:
* Devon Joseph – 518-3303
* Suzanna Cooper – 727-4016/460-9056.
“Please accept our sincere thanks and appreciation for your time and consideration.”
Cooper also claimed that she is yet to receive a response from this last letter – more than four months later.
“I have not yet heard from them…. If I can get a lot (of land) from them I can put a house for me and my kids because I need it bad.”
However, Cooper is still hopeful government will respond to her favourably.
“As a mother of five I have to try my best for my kids. My first son is in Form 4, going to Form 5 this year. God is good,” she concluded.
Below is an article produced by the Government Information Service (GIS) and published on St. Lucia News Online on November 28, 2013 about the rationalisation of a parcel of land at Gaboo Lands in Morne Du Don.
“The Ministry of Housing, Physical Development and Urban Renewal is in the process of undertaking the rationalisation of a parcel of land at Gaboo Lands, which is located at Morne Du Don.
“The rationalisation of the existing four acre parcel of land will provide residents with the opportunity to own the lot on which their dwelling home presently sits. This process will also result in improved living conditions for residents.
“Stanley Felix, Minister for Housing, Physical Development and Urban Renewal, and his team at the ministry held a community meeting at the Morne Du Don Combined School on Tuesday to update residents on the steps that have been made to facilitate this process.
“Social Planner in the Housing and Urban Renewal Division Darnally Estava told residents they must start thinking like land owners.
“You have to stop thinking of yourself as just living on the land and now begin thinking of yourself as land owner,” said Estava. “What we will do from this point on [is that] as soon as Cabinet gives a decision as to the prices of the land, we will be issuing what is called an offer letter. The offer letter will have all the information about your lot. It will include the lot number, the lot size [and] the price of the land.”
“As with the Bois d’Orange Redevelopment Project, the Cabinet of Ministers will determine the price and length of time the residents will have to pay for the lands. The lots of land will be surveyed in accordance with what home dwellers occupy. Importantly, residents will not be considered owners of the land unless they have completed payments on the land.
“In addressing residents, the housing minister allayed their concerns about the prices of the lots: “I am looking at getting this land to you at a price that every single person here can afford. Nothing that is going to break your back, because the important thing for us is that you become land owners, and we recognise that you have been living there for so long and we must take cognisance of the fact that if given the opportunity back then you would have been paying much less than the value of the land now.”
“Felix added that Cabinet will not determine price [of the lots] as per the real value, but rather, it will be determined based on the socio-economic conditions of residents, and “of course being mindful that we want to get you all to be landowners”.
“The Gaboo Lands parcel is a total of four acres and comprises 34 existing houses. The Government of St Lucia plans to undertake infrastructural works in the area in phases.
“The ministry hopes that the residents will be land owners by year-end.”
* NOTE: St. Lucia News Online will continue to try to get a response from the Ministry regarding an update on the land rationaliation programme at Morne Du Don.