SHE has retired twice, first as inspector of the poor for the Corporate Area and then as a social welfare officer at Food for the Poor; but despite her advanced age, Pearline Barrett still spends most of her days trying to help those who are homeless.
"That's all I know. I am the type of person who, if you ask me for a favour and I can't do it, I am disappointed and I would go out of my way to go and find somebody who can do it for me," she said.
Barrett started out at the Ministry of Education in the 1960s marking examination papers until she was later transferred to another department that was responsible for helping needy students attending secondary schools. The mother of four was touched by some of the circumstances that confronted her as she carried out investigations to determine the extent of the needs. She took each case personally, so much so that her colleagues started referring to her as a social worker.
"They would say, 'Where is the social worker', and they started calling me that," she shared.
One day Barrett approached the secretary for the Board of Supervision and asked him if she could do the poor relief course. Upon securing the relevant approval and leave from the ministry, she went and pursued this course. Given her aptitude for helping the poor, Barrett was seen as the ideal candidate for a job at the Poor Relief Department, and she was offered several job opportunities there that she had to decline, primarily because she had to move to St Thomas to be with her husband who at the time was an agricultural instructor. When her husband was relocated to Kingston in 1968, she was finally able to accept a job offer at the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation.
"I started as an assistant inspector of poor. So you had to go out there, you had persons on the road and I had over 200 persons at the time, and they placed you in areas like Trench Town, Jones Town, uptown in Mavis Bank, Gordon Town and those areas. My first placement was in Trench Town," she said.
One of her primary tasks was assisting students who needed help to go back to school, and this was a job that she tried to do well. Even now she still gets photos from students she had assisted who are now doing well.
"In a quick time I became a senior assistant inspector of poor and I had to deal with children who were in homes and the welfare of all the children who were going to the different schools, because under the law, we had to see to it that they attended school regularly and if they weren't in a position to get lunch, we would give them lunch money and that sort of thing," she said.
Barrett spent 30 years at the Poor Relief Department and retired in 1997. That year she also received the Order of Distinction officer class for "outstanding work beyond the call of duty". She recalled that the staff in her department threw her a grand send-off party where the then minister of local government Roger Clarke was the master of ceremonies.
"It was really nice. Oh my God, I didn't know that I could get that type of treatment," she said.
"I was elated. I really felt good about it because I knew I had worked hard and I put my whole life in my work. I keep telling people that in life it's not what you choose to do, but how well you do what you choose to do," she added.
But just three months or so after retirement, Barrett was called by the then chairman of Food For the Poor who asked her to come and train others how to care for the poor.
"That was a beautiful experience. I started as the housing officer, so I climbed some mountains and went over some rivers. All the rivers that you heard that man up at Mavis Bank saying you can't cross, I crossed them and went over," she said.
"I am now retired, but I am still involved. If there is someone who needs a house, they still ask me so I can ask Food for the Poor."
Barrett attributes her altruistic nature to her parents, who she described as being extremely kind. While her mother died in her late 90s, her father is still alive at 105.
"Those people, they lived for people. When Sunday came and the humble little people would come around, you had to take dinner for them. Sometimes you'd push out your mouth, but you had to go," she recalled.
Barrett was central to the establishment of the Marie Atkins homeless shelter where many have found a roof to shelter from the harsh realities of life. She is considered an advocate for the poor and indigent, and owing to her concern for homeless women, also started a shelter for battered women, which is still in operation. She was awarded for 10 years of dedicated service at Food for the Poor and spent 13 years with the charity group before retiring.