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'Hurry up, please'

Evicted squatters anxious to be relocated before storm strikes

BY KIMMO MATTHEWS AND TANESHA MUNDLE Observer staff reporters editorial@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, August 24, 2012    

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SIGNS of rain and reports that a tropical storm could affect the island in a matter of days has sparked fresh concerns for scores of residents who were last week evicted from a property on Duke Street, Kingston, which they illegally occupied.

Last Friday, roughly two weeks before the start of the new school year, a bailiff, accompanied by a police team, demolished several shacks, leaving close to 60 persons, including children, homeless.

"For the past five days some of us have been forced to rough it out on the sidewalks; we have nowhere to go," complained Christine Gregory.

The woman was among a small group of evicted persons huddling under a tarpaulin to avoid the rain that lashed sections of the city on Wednesday.

"We are grateful for the help, but with the rains coming and we hear of reports that a tropical storm may be coming to the island. Wi not rushing dem, but we would be happy if the authorities can step up their plans to help us," another evicted woman, Barbara Henry, said.

The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) said it would, in association with the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation's Parish Disaster Committee and Member of Parliament Desmond McKenzie, ensure that basic temporary relief is provided. It has offered to provide the homeless with tents, portable sanitary conveniences and collapsible water storage containers.

Residents have welcomed the help, but say they are worried as the US National Hurricane Centre has placed the Caribbean on alert, saying Tropical Storm Isaac could become a hurricane by weekend.

Meanwhile, children who were part of the approximately 23 families evicted have received more help with their back-to-school preparation. This time it has come from New York-based charity the Harris Family Vision Foundation which on Wednesday donated two boxes of notebooks, pencils, pens, crayons, markers, and erasers.

McKenzie received the donation on the children's behalf at his office on Charles Street.

Kimberly Harris, co-founder of the charity which wrapped up its annual back-to-school mission to Jamaica yesterday , said the foundation was immediately moved to assist after learning about the children's plight.

"I wouldn't want to be in that situation not knowing where my next meal is coming from or where I am going to sleep tonight, and it was really troubling to see that people, especially children, were still going through these things," she told the Jamaica Observer.

Harris, 14, said further that the foundation was a Christian-based organisation and as such was obligated to follow the footsteps of Christ in helping those who are less fortunate.

"If you see people in need you should really strive to make it better; as you can either be a part of the solution, or a part of the problem," she said.

McKenzie, for his part, expressed gratitude to the foundation and pledged to ensure that only those who were really in need would benefit.

"I am really grateful and I want to extend heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the foundation, and the fact the foundation continues to dictate how the Bible tells us that we ought to treat those who are less fortunate than ourselves is really heartening," he said.

The mayor said, too, that lands have been identified on Rose Lane and in Tivoli Gardens, on which the affected families could be relocated. He was expected to meet with the residents yesterday to find out whether or not they would accept the offer as Food for the Poor was ready to assist with providing the houses.

"As part of efforts to help the evicted persons, Food for the Poor has visited the area and listed the names of persons who were affected during the operation," Field Officer Junior Reid told the Jamaica Observer.

"We don't want to impose anything on them," McKenzie said regarding his planned meeting with the residents. "And I also have a number of issues to discuss with them because we have to speak about the condition of the children."

McKenzie said the Child Development Agency had already met with the families and it has been agreed that the agency would not be separating children from their parents.

"We are getting support and responses from a number of people," he said. "But we need much more than that, but it also speaks to the question of what will happen to the next family who finds themselves in this position. I hope we will never have a repeat of what has happened, because it is not something that augurs well for Jamaica."

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