All Woman

Elaine Walker is passionate about the poor

BY DONNA HUSSEY-WHYTE All Woman writer husseyd@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, November 05, 2012    

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THE passion in Elaine Walker's voice was obvious, her frustration clear. Yet it was not of her personal needs that she spoke, but those of the over 3,000 homeless persons in need of special care.

But Walker does her best to help as many as she can, both in her capacity as inspector of the poor for Kingston and St Andrew, and also as an active member of her community.

Walker has been in social work for 30 years and has been at the Emergency Operations Centre and Poor Relief Department for all those years.

"I want to make a difference," she told All Woman. "My greatest passion is to see all the homeless persons off the streets of Kingston."

But there are challenges.

"The Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC) is trying very hard to get them off the streets and to get volunteers to come in and assist," she explained. "But the challenge is that we have inadequate funding to meet the needs of all the people who need our help. But if we could get somewhere out there, to help these persons to get off the streets of Kingston... that is my greatest passion. And to get volunteers coming in to assist them, you know, medical help, physical help, spiritual help, just about every help that you can think of," she said from her Hanover Street office last Thursday.

"Right now the needs are great. Because of the kind of climate right now people are more in need than before. So if we could get adequate funding to meet these needs, that would be wonderful."

However, Walker expressed gratitude to corporate Jamaica which, she said, makes donations from time to time.

A 1978 graduate of Grantham College, St Andrew, Walker built and started a basic school on a piece of land her grandfather had given her in rural St Andrew, even while also doing youth service. But, she explained, she still felt a sense of emptiness inside. That was when she realised that was not fulfilling enough for her.

"I still had an emptiness and so I applied for this job and was employed as the assistant inspector of poor," she said.

In 1982, she started working at the Poor Relief Department.

While there she attended University of the West Indies where she did a course for inspectors, and upon completion, she was put on staff.

Walker relinquished her basic school to a family member and devoted her time to her new job. The school, Top Roads Basic, is still operational today, with an enrolment of over a hundred students.

Her new job took her to the streets, where she met her greatest challenge.

She explained that the last survey done found over 600 persons on the streets of Kingston who have nowhere to live.

Nothing, she said, would give her more joy than having everyone placed in shelters and be properly cared for.

The calling to do social work, she said, is a gift, and something not everyone could do.

Her passion for the field can be seen in the way she has extended herself outside her job to other outreach programmes.

In 1987, she founded the Green Valley Citizens' Association which has been active in fixing roads, building a community tank and doing other developments in that St Andrew community.

In 1993, Walker started the Mavis Bank Home Care group with three teachers. Today, Walker said the group is still active and has over 30 volunteer members. Members of the group make home visits where they wash, clean, bathe the sick, read the Bible or just sit and talk to persons.

It's her faith in God, Walker said, that gives the compulsion to care.

Baptised at 12, she said God has given her the guidance, the commitment and the passion for what she now does.

As a member of the Top Road Church of the First Born, Walker is a minister who plays an active role in her church. She also serves as a justice of the peace.

Today, she oversees a total of 70 homeless persons who use the Marie Atkins night shelter on Harbour Street.

She speaks highly of her entire staff consisting of eight social workers who she said will go into various zones to seek out those who are destitute.

Then, they are taken care of until they can either be reintegrated into society, placed with family members, or get back on their feet.

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