Homeless deserve better treatment, says social advocate

Homeless deserve better treatment, says social advocate

BY ALICIA SUTHERLAND Observer staff reporter sutherlanda@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, May 24, 2015

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MANDEVILLE, Manchester — Now in its seventh year undertaking wide-ranging activities in local communities, the presence of international non-government organisation Projects Abroad has primarily been felt in Manchester, St Elizabeth and Montego Bay, St James.

However, with the recent launch of a public education and sensitisation effort to tackle issues concerning the homeless, the 10-member team in Jamaica is currently on a drive to get the entire island involved in a campaign, which peaks later this year.

Dr Bridgette Barrett, country director for Projects Abroad Jamaica, said that on October 10, which is recognised as World Homeless Day, she hopes that all the stakeholders will "lock down" Jamaica for the cause.

On that day across Jamaica, she said, the plan is for different groups to be simultaneously reaching out to the homeless in a significant way.

Barrett said that through the campaign, the activities will take place in the town centres across the island as that is what will be logistically possible.

"One of the main things is to provide shelter and care for these individuals as well as rehabilitation. We want to create a wave across Jamaica, a public education and awareness campaign to say... we need to treat the homeless better," she said.

Activities on the day, Barrett said, include medical attention to be provided by professionals, meals for the homeless served "restaurant-style," care packages, including services of massage therapists, barbers, and hairdressers.

She said that not every homeless person has mental challenges, contrary to popular belief.

The coping mechanism of different individuals to handle life's challenges may result in some people, who previously take care of themselves independently, finding themselves on the street due to issues such as the loss of a job or diagnosis of a critical illness, said Barrett.

The Projects Abroad director said that from an early age she has been taught to give back, and she has a long-standing record of caring for the homeless.

She said that following the alleged dumping of street people from Montego Bay in St Elizabeth and Mandeville in 1999, a position was created within the Ministry of Local government called "Programme Coordinator for Homeless and Street Persons" and she was the first to be employed there.

Barrett said that, having left the position within five months because of a desire to relocate, she called year after year and the position was never filled.

"That position was supposed to provide support and advocacy for the homeless and street persons in Jamaica," she said.

Barrett also lamented the alleged mistreatment of street people in preparation for the recent visit of United States President Barack Obama to Jamaica.

The Projects Abroad campaign for the homeless is dubbed Operation SHARE (Support Help And Respect Everyone).

She said that beyond October 10 the advocacy will continue through social media and other approaches and the call for action is both locally and internationally.

"The key to this campaign is public education. It's not only about talking, it's about solving the issue," Barrett said.

"My position is we are all the same. We should be treated the same," she added, noting that caring for the homeless has to be a consistent and collective effort.

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