Letter | More Action Needed To Tackle Homelessness In Jamaica

Dear Editor,

Victimized, scorned, and disrespected are just a few words used by scores of homeless people to describe what they have to deal with daily. This is a cause for concern and this must be dealt with, with much urgency.                   
Do we care about these individuals? What is being done to address this issue?

Homelessness is not having a place to permanently reside.

Several reasons contribute to individuals becoming homeless. These include, but are not limited to mental challenges, crime and violence, health issues, family challenges, drug abuse, and general poverty.

Life has many misfortunes and is sometimes unpredictable, notwithstanding that; we should seek to assist the individuals who find themselves in situations like these.

We have heard many times that a ‘state-of-the-art adult transitional facility’ is to be built for nearly $140 million to serve homeless persons in Kingston and St. Andrew, but I am not in the least excited about these words and announcements, because we have been hearing these fantasy words for too long and nothing is being done. I am more interested in the actual work.

Seventy-two-year-old Paul Williams, who has been living on the streets of Kingston for more than 25 years, lamented: “Conditions ruff out yah. Di government only a talk, but dem naah duh one thing fi help wi. Dem seh wi fi guh a poor relief but wen yuh guh deh, dem treat yuh like dog.” 

He said the municipal police have been persecuting people once they are seen feeding anyone on the road.

I hastened to make checks; the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation (KSAMC) said the feeding of the homeless should only be done in designated enclosed areas.

Sanitary Convenience

When questioned about sanitary convenience, Paul said: “Rubbish heap and behind dark areas wi affi guh, or dung a seaside.”

He added: “wi homeless and, if wi guh up a di park, dem a tell wi bout yuh affi pay money. Is just hustling dem deh pon up deh suh.”

Paul seems to be the homeless representative; most of the others pointed me to him. As we had the conversation, he wept. These people NEED help.


Poor Relief

The Poor Relief Programme has been divided into two areas – outdoor poor and indoor poor.

The outdoor poor programme assists persons who may be on the street or who may have a residence but are finding it difficult to make ends meet.

The indoor poor programme is operated from within the Parish Infirmary. It caters to the elderly and those persons who are unable to care for themselves and need shelter. However, the beneficiaries are classified as those people who require temporary shelter and nutrition.

While the intentions of the Poor Relief Programme are pure, it is alleged that the workers treat the patience poorly.

Paul said: “Di food cold, dem mix everybody in one place – mentally ill and the homeless together.” That often causes conflicts.

On any day, just take a walk downtown, Kingston. I am sure you will see more than 50 homeless people on the street at any given time and this number seems to be increasing every day.

The truth is, despite several initiatives being undertaken by the Government, these initiatives are either inadequate or no longer functioning.

So how can we do better? Yes. 

These are a few recommendations: 

1.Proclaim a Homeless People Awareness Week to build awareness and sensitize the nation to the real issues involved with this worsening national problem. That could be done twice per year (May and December).

2. Undertake a comprehensive national audit of all institutions providing services to the poor and homeless to include remedial squatter assessment and rectification.
 
3. Undertake a comprehensive census of all homeless people, ensuring that they are categorized based on rehabilitative needs with occupation and social reintegration being the primary focus of the survey.

4. People need income levels that make housing affordable, both to reduce and to prevent homelessness. The issue of affordable housing has two sides: On one side is the supply of housing at a given price; on the other is the amount of money an individual or family has with which to pay rent. The committee observed that, in many communities, neither employment at the current minimum wage nor welfare benefits for those who are eligible provide enough income for them to acquire adequate housing. Given the irreducible economic cost of housing in those communities, income adequacy must also be addressed if homelessness and its attendant health problems are to be prevented or remedied.

5. Implement programmes, which will help the homeless to learn a skill so that they will be able to find employment.

6. START the work now on the ‘state-of-the-art adult transitional facility’.

In conclusion, it is my view that homelessness is a solvable issue that requires national attention coupled with political will and support to end this scourge on our country. All are encouraged to become stakeholders as we strive for the empowerment and transformation of the lives of the less fortunate among us. I am offering myself to sit on any committee to make representation this group (homeless and less fortunate).

In light of the above-mentioned issues, I took the stance to launch the Jahvarn Brown feeding program in December 2020 that would cater to at least 300 homeless individuals in and around the corporate area of Kingston and St. Andrew. Plans are being put in place to facilitate this venture and we are trying to garner as much support as possible. If anyone is willing to support this program, please do not hesitate to reach out. Contacts can be made via phone at (876) 289-7541 or via email at brownjahvarn22@gmail.com. All are welcomed to make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate.

Yours Truly,
Jahvarn Brown (photographed above)


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