Stop the useless talk and act on homelessness

Stop the useless talk and act on homelessness

Monday, April 06, 2020

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In times such as these, when the immediate priority equates to home, family, and self, it is easy to forget that protecting the vulnerable in the wider community is in fact enlightened self-interest.

We are reminded of this by the Sunday Observer's story written by Miss Sharlene Hendricks about homeless people surviving on the streets and in abandoned buildings of downtown Kingston.

We are struck by the description of 62-year-old asthmatic Mr Donald Atkins who opted to sleep overnight on the street across the road from the Marie Atkins Night Shelter in downtown Kingston.

Mr Atkins tells us in vague terms that he chose not to go to the night shelter because he didn't want to leave his “tings”, which included a small radio, some clothes, and pieces of cardboard.

Yet, Mr Atkins seems well-informed of the threat posed by the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and of the danger to him.

“When di rain drizzle pon mi, mi asthma badda mi and it tek a long while fi mi chest get betta,” he said. “Mi know seh if yuh have a health issue old people must stay inside…”

Even so, Mr Atkins has chosen to stay exposed to the elements.

Of course, this matter of homelessness is not straightforward.

Some are on the streets because they have nowhere to go. For some, like Mr Atkins, the reasons are vague, at best. For many, the compulsion to live on the street is apparently driven by mental disorder.

It seems to us that now, more than ever before, as COVID-19 poses an ever-growing threat, the public good must take precedence.

We note a story a few days ago, later denied by the police, that homeless people were arrested for breaking the nightly curfew order.

Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie is on record as apologising, apparently because proper measures weren't taken to accommodate the homeless as the curfew regime took effect.

It seems to us, though, that beyond COVID-19, and after years of talking, it's full time for Jamaicans to come to grips once and for all with this 'homeless', 'street people' challenge.

Our reporter tells us that, according to a 2012 National Committee on Homelessness study, there were approximately 1,900 homeless people across the island at that time, with some 600 in the Corporate Area alone.

It can't be beyond this country to provide adequate shelters for that number, or even substantially more.

And it doesn't have to be a burden borne only by taxpayers.

Just last month, the regional Observer Central published the story of a night shelter built in Mandeville by the Candle in the Dark movement to accommodate homeless people in that town.

We are told that social activist Mrs Wendy Freckleton and others rallied to raise cash and kind to provide the shelter on State-owned lands.

Asked what advice she would give to others who may wish to follow the example in Mandeville, Mrs Freckleton's response was instructive: “If you have the will you can do it…”

After years of talking about the homeless and doing very little, Jamaicans in the time of COVID-19 should find the “will” to deal with homelessness once and for all.

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