Full time we put an end to people living on the streets

Full time we put an end to people living on the streets

Friday, January 29, 2021

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Savagery and evil aside, the murderous attacks on homeless people on the streets of Kingston on Monday underline a difficulty that has plagued this society for way too long.

Simply put, there are far too many people — about 2,000 we are told — who live on the streets of our cities and towns. Some suggest there may even be more.

As we have pointed out previously in this space, homelessness is not new, nor is it straightforward.

As we understand it, the problem dates back to the period immediately after the emancipation of slaves in the late 1830s. As some of our readers know, while slave owners were generously compensated by the British colonial authorities for loss of property, the ex-slaves got nothing — left to survive as best they could, like abandoned dogs.

It can't be disputed that extreme poverty in societies like Jamaica has deep roots in the enslavement of kidnapped Africans shipped across the Atlantic — the immediate aftermath of that abhorrent system, and colonial exploitation.

Today, pure unadulterated poverty remains a big reason for homelessness since some people have nowhere to live. Some have been turned away by relatives, some are drug addicts who find life easier on the streets, there is talk that some people are deportees from Britain and North America, and there are the mentally challenged who seem to prefer the streets to four walls.

Whatever the reason, it seems to this newspaper that the society must now move to bring closure to this business of people living on the streets — for their own protection, and for the greater good of the society as a whole.

The recent murders by no means represent the first case of atrocity against street people. There have been murders and attacks aplenty before now.

Also, older Jamaicans remember a scandalous episode in the late 1980s involving 'bounty hunters' responding to rumours. They captured and tied up people they assumed were mentally ill, packed them in handcarts and took them to Bellevue Hospital in east Kingston.

Then there was the Montego Bay street people scandal of 1999, when the homeless in that western city were rounded up and trucked to Myersville in faraway St Elizabeth. There, the people were dumped beside the bauxite/alumina waste disposal pond, popularly referred to as the red mud lake. That episode left egg on the face of the St James Parish Council.

We contend that homelessness, which in the case of Jamaica seems almost institutionalised, reflects a lack of care for the poor, vulnerable and deprived — unbecoming for any modern society.

It is also reflective of disorder.

It can't be beyond the resources of this country to ensure that there is a bed somewhere in a protected area for every person who now takes refuge on the street.

And what of those who simply do not want to leave the streets?

As we understand it, forcing people off the streets may be in breach of their rights. That, we believe, should change. For the greater good of all, this newspaper believes legislators should find the will to act to ensure that our most vulnerable people are protected, even against their will, and that good order prevails.

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