Golden Age Home dispute

Golden Age Home dispute

Former resident says he was tricked into relocating to 'abandoned building', but director denies claim

Senior staff reporter

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

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JAMAICAN Louis Lyons is an angry man.

The 67-year-old is crying foul, claiming he was duped into signing a voluntary discharge form on the basis that he would be moved from Golden Age Home in Vineyard Town, St Andrew, to a habitable space, only to be dumped at an “abandoned building” in downtown Kingston with no electricity and no door.

“I signed a document and the reason I signed is because they said they would fix this place. I would never want to move into an abandoned building. I am looking for some legal assistance to challenge them because I would never sign to come into an abandoned building without no light. I am more intelligent than that. They will try to make it [his account of what transpired] different from what it is,” Lyons told the Jamaica Observer in a recent interview.

But Matthew Smith Barrett, who serves as director/chair of the Finance and Resource Mobilisation Committee and a member of the Governance Committee of the Golden Age Home, has denied Lyons' claims, stating instead that he was voluntarily discharged from the facility and that he had actually chosen his new home.

“Mr Lyons informed us that he has his own finances and as such, he wanted voluntary discharge. The social worker would have made checks on the premises. He [Lyons] identified those premises. It was a voluntary discharge, it wasn't us putting him out,” Smith Barrett said, noting that Lyons' quest for justice could be based on the realisation that he cannot finance his livelihood.

“He found the place but apparently found he could not finance his bills, so he is trying to sue us to take care of him while he is at this abode that was chosen by him. He identified the premises. It was a voluntary discharge, it wasn't us putting him out, and we don't have obligations for persons who are not in our care at the location,” Smith Barrett told the Observer.

Lyons, who explained that he was deported to the island from the United States in 2006 because of an “assault charge and misappropriation of funds”, said he fell on hard times in 2009, at which point he turned to the services of the board of supervision for the relief of the poor, commonly known as the Poor Relief Department, for help.

The experience, he claims, has been a harrowing one.

“I was at the Poor Relief [Department] in 2014 on Hanover Street, and they moved me in a subversive way to go up to the Golden Age Home in Vineyard Town — they just took me up all of a sudden. The manner that they take me was so disgraceful, taking pictures of me and everything... I am at the Golden Age Home since September or August 2014 to this June past; I wanted to leave the Golden Age Home because I see where no matter what you complain about, they do nothing about it,” Lyons said.

He also alleges mistreatment of occupants by staff of the facility.

“They abuse the residents. They do all kinds of things to people there and you cannot say nothing, you have no rights as a resident,” Lyons told the Observer.

“There is a lot of things that happen at the home, and if you do speak about it, they deny it. There is no privacy there, you lay down beside persons who pee up themselves and faeces up themselves... As a deportee, the stigma is so bad, they treat me so badly.

“They take away my clothes, saying I had bedbugs, and then when I look, I see other residents wearing my clothes. I went there with two suitcases and when I leave, I leave with one and they never gave me nothing from the time I been there, not even a slippers,” he stated.

However, Smith Barrett said, though he was not attempting to say the staff were perfect, there are processes in place to check and address underperformance and complaints of abuse at the home.

“I am trying to stave off the negative press the home always gets, when persons don't fully understand what is done and why it is done. No resident's complaint goes unheard,” he told the Observer.

Lyons explained that after expressing his desire to move from the home, “they came up with the idea that I should find the place and they would assist me with paying the rent”.

“That was May last year. I looked and I looked and I couldn't find no place, so I wrote a letter letting them know that I am asking for their assistance in locating this place [so] I could move. In the first week of June, they told me that they found a place for me and I should come look at it,” he said

According to Lyons, he was taken to the downtown Kingston location on High Holborn Street, to see the premises that was being proposed.

“I saw other people was living in it. I wasn't aware that this was an abandoned building, so when I looked at the room I was supposed to move in to, there was no door, there was no light, there was nothing. I said to them, 'This place needs to be fixed up'. They said they would put on the door and they would give me light. I said, 'Okay, once you do that, I would move',” Lyons related.

He said the next day he was told to pack his belongings.

“They took me down here [downtown Kingston location]. The place is filthy. The room need painting and everything. They gave me a flash light and a lamp with a battery,” he told the Observer.

Lyons is now contending that his new abode is less than safe and that he feels he was treated unfairly by the system.

Reacting to Lyons' threat of legal action, Smith Barrett said other people have brought lawsuits against the home but have failed.

“Another individual brought a suit against us; that individual wanted to smoke as they liked. It is a public property with other infirmed individuals that we provide the service for, and, as such, you can't smoke on that property,” Smith Barrett disclosed. “The person wanted to smoke in their room. The room is not a private room but a room on a cluster shared by four others, so you can't smoke in there... It is illegal, so we couldn't allow it.”

“The person wanted the freedom to come and go on the property as they liked without getting the necessary discharge card, and the person also wanted the freedom to sell marijuana and cigarettes on the property. We had to take a stand and say, 'No, this cannot happen here', and the person brought us up to say we were abusing their rights and they didn't have their freedoms,” he said.

Smith Barrett said the suit, which was brought through Jamaicans For Justice, was eventually dropped.

“That person is now living at the home, much more comfortable, has no complaints, and is adhering to the rules. And I think that same individual would have also been someone who spoke to Mr Lyons,” Smith Barrett surmised.

He said, too, that the home has faced its fair share of trials, outlining a case of a resident who had been denied visitors because he had allegedly brought individuals onto the compound to threaten another person with whom he had a dispute.

“That caused an uproar with staff, who were going to strike when it happened. It was alleged that that person, in a former life, was a don who got shot up and was paralysed, and those same gang members would not be taking care of a paraplegic don and he ended up at the home, but he still had those contacts to be able to call them to come [to his defence],” Smith Barrett told the Observer.

He said the home, which was faced with the dilemma of having staff walk if they kept the individual a the facility, turned him over to the police, only to have the police return him to them.

“The police brought the person right back and said, 'We don't have anywhere to keep this person'. We have an isolation area that was pre-COVID-19, we also have our COVID-19 isolation area that was built up, that we had to put that individual. We still gave him his adequate care and nursing and food, but the person was still adamant that they were being ill-treated. We did our checks, there was no evidence to say he was being ill-treated,” Smith Barrett shared.

He, in the meantime, said the home stands ready to face any challenge that might be brought by Lyons.

Efforts by the Observer to air the matter with secretary of the Board of Supervision in the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development Treka Lewis proved unsuccessful. Lewis promised to speak with the relevant officials and respond to the Observer but up to two weeks later, is yet to respond. She also did not return the Observer's follow-up calls.

The Observer, however, understands that the ministry is in the process of treating with the matter with a view to reassessing the decision taken where Lyons is concerned.

Human rights lobby group Jamaicans For Justice, to whom Lyons has appealed, told the Observer on Friday that the matter is before an attorney there.

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