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Advocates issue call to action to handle squatters

Thursday, August 23, 2012 | 9:32 AM    

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KINGSTON, Jamaica — The Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network (JYAN) and Help JA Children have issued a call to action to policymakers to protect the landless poor.

The two advocacy groups say they are inviting other organisations to add their voice to the call as well.

In response to the recent removal of 80 adults and 40 children from a squatter settlement on Duke Street last week, the two groups prepared a document which has now been uploaded to the Internet and is open for signatures from the public.

“We cannot continue to allow people to be homeless. We have to ensure that at the end of the day, we do everything we can to protect the most vulnerable people in our society and the poor and landless people are among that constituent,” said Jaevion Nelson.

Nelson, who is the executive director of JYAN, said that the document asks the government to look at doing five specific things, namely:

1. Identify and analyse the local nature of squatting and develop an appropriate policy and programmatic response;

2. Make land available and affordable to the homeless, either individually or as members of viable communities;

3.Transform dysfunctional squatter communities into viable, functional and supportive ones, by putting in place necessary physical infrastructure and by providing social amenities that foster environmental health and wellbeing;

4.Establish temporary shelter(s) to provide housing for persons who are being evicted from private lands and/or properties; and

5. Provide available housing units at discounted prices to the homeless, such as with Operation PRIDE.

The petition, which is hosted on change.org, is seeking 2000 signatures and according to Nelson, will be sent to Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, the Minister of Labour and Social Security Derrick Kellier and the Minister of Transport, Works and Housing Dr Omar Davies.

Help JA Children’s chief advocate Brandon Allwood said that we must recognise that housing is a basic human right and that close to one million people are currently living in a number of squatter communities across the island.

“Almost one million people, one-third of our population, live in one of 754 squatter communities across the island. Especially with the discussion of legislation that will bring squatter communities under the scrutiny of the law, we must seriously discuss how it is that we will resolve this issue. Certainly the answer is not to make one-third of our population homeless,” Allwood remarked.

The petition’s name on change.org is ‘End the eviction and displacement of homeless Jamaicans’, and both Nelson and Allwood are encouraging people to sign the document and let their voice be heard. For more information on the call to action, people can email Help JA Children at hello@helpjachildren.org.

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