Jubilee disgrace!

Betty Ann Blaine

Tuesday, August 21, 2012    

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Dear Reader,

I had no choice but to abort the topic I had previously intended to write about in order to share with you the deep hurt and anger I feel about the way the poor are being treated in our country, and paradoxically in the year in which we are celebrating our country's Jubilee.

At a time when Jamaicans - even those in the middle class - are feeling the hardships of the economic crisis that is upon us, it is unconscionable, inhumane and unjust for those without a formal living structure to be evicted and put out on to the streets.

How can anybody evict children? The pictures carried in both the print and electronic media are not only an indictment of the society as a whole; it is a Jubilee disgrace! Here we are celebrating our 50th anniversary of Independence while in the midst of the revelry our brothers and sisters, including small children, are being evicted as squatters and threatened with imprisonment.

The families put "out-a-door" last weekend to contend with the pouring rain and the broiling sun have been placed by the media in our faces over the last few days. We don't have the luxury of saying that we don't know.

For me personally, it is an irony of fate that I happen to know a little more about one of the squatters that have been evicted from downtown Kingston.

About a month ago, a young woman called me asking for help to find somewhere to live. She said she had all of her documents to show me and that she had been trying to get help for a long time. I could hear the desperation in her voice and I made way for a meeting with her amidst my busy schedule.

The young woman arrived accompanied by two beautiful children - her daughters - seven and five years old. I was startled to see that their mother had no fingers and that her hands were very badly deformed. She would explain afterwards that her fingers had been severed by a man when she was 17 years old. Both her knees were also severely damaged. She said that it was a miracle that she made it out alive, and had spent an interminable length of time in hospital and at Mona Rehabilitation Centre.

The children kept staring at me with curious and penetrating eyes. They were alert and articulate and I knew instinctively that their mother must have invested a lot of time in them. "They are doing well in school," she told me, reaching into her bag to pull out the report card of one of her daughters. Despite the obvious hardships, I knew that I was looking at a proud and supportive mother.

I was encouraged to see that the two children bore the same last name. "They are the same father," the mother disclosed. "Does he live with you?" I asked. "Yes," she replied, and I felt that here was a family that needed encouragement and support.

The mother gingerly pulled out of her bag several documents substantiating her efforts to get help for a place to live. She had gone to a variety of government agencies and the letters she showed me confirmed her visits. "I try everything," she said, "and I still don't have anywhere to live. I am just a squatter."

It is clear to me that the issue of squatting has to be methodically and mercifully worked out with the objective of reform and rehabilitation being paramount in the equation.

In the process, there are certain things that are worth pointing out. First, we should all be reminded that people who have somewhere to live don't squat. The practice is entirely a problem that affects the poor. While some of the country's proletariat remain on unoccupied and unclaimed land for long periods of time, there is also a growing population of people I describe as "itinerant squatters" - those homeless individuals who move from spot to spot, squatting, but not settling. The risk is that some of those itinerant squatters become permanent squatters as time goes by.

Second, the issue of squatting is bound up with the ongoing problem of partisan political violence and somebody has to take responsibility for that. Whole communities like Tredeger Park and "No Man's Land" have become depopulated as a result of the scourge of criminal gangs associated with both the PNP and the JLP. Under the threat of terror, Jamaicans are run out of their homes and communities at short notice - sometimes with only a few hours warning. Those politicians, who are advocating criminalising squatting, must first tell the Jamaican people how they intend to fix the problem of their own political refugees.

Third, and by no means least, is the fact that successive administrations must take responsibility for aiding and abetting squatting. Permanent squatting does not happen overnight. It takes years and decades for some of those communities to become entrenched. If government was doing its job properly, the situation could not have deteriorated to what we see today. Squatting for political advantage and votes has exacerbated the problem.

Let us deal with the squatting problem once and for all, before we are accused of hypocrisy in this our Jubilee year.

With love,





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