Elderly want allocations disbursed separately after stampede
SEVENTY-five-year-old Francella Crosbale wore a broad smile as she watched hundreds of enraged Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) beneficiaries storm the Hagley Park Post Office on Thursday.
An eccentric character, the elderly woman leaned on her metal cane for support as she mocked the boorish crowd, finding humour in every expletive that greeted her ears.
The source of Crosbale's glee lay in the fact that although she had arrived at the post office around 8:00 am — late, compared to the masses who arrived some two hours earlier — she ended up being among the first to get their allotments. This, after an unruly crowd of mostly young women rushed the building breaking through the gates, pushing past security, demanding their PATH benefits.
Crosbale was in the first batch of elderly persons allowed inside the venue after workers, faced with a potential riot, were forced to close the facility.
She collected her cheque — a meagre $1,800 — with ease, then watched the screaming horde from a short distance away.
"Look pon them! Look how dem a 'galang'," laughed Crosbale. "Dem think dem can get through so; with bad word and war? Oh Lord," she chuckled, her snow white eyebrows wrinkled in wry pity as she watched the unruly crowd.
"I walked with Jesus; he makes everything easy for me. They walked with badword, and that's why they won't get through 'till sun hot," she laughed, adding that one boisterous and facetious woman had even told her to 'go home and mek yuh man send money fi you'.
"All now she supposed to still in the crowd, fighting," giggled Crosbale uncontrollably.
But while the fracas worked in Crosbale's favour, not so for many of the other elderly persons, some of whom opted to go home empty-handed instead of fight the crowd.
According to workers at the post office, chaos unfolded when some beneficiaries became peeved with the order in which wait numbers were being allocated by employees. Tempers flared, and it was then that persons stormed the premises demanding their allotments. The crowd hurled sordid epithets at workers peering through the building's windows.
The police had to be called to the location to remove the rowdy beneficiaries and restore order.
Tandi Lewis, public relations officer at the Post and Telecommunications Department, confirmed Thursday's incident, noting that such irascible behaviour is common at that location.
"This is not something abnormal; it takes place particularly at that location, but we have had challenges at locations across the island when we are making PATH disbursements," she said, noting that disbursments at the Hagley Park branch are usually made under the auspices of the police and additional security.
Last year, general postal services at the Hagley Park branch came to a halt following a robbery there. More than 2000 PATH beneficiaries were then asked to collect their disbursments at the General Post Office downtown. That plan, however, was shortlived as beneficiaries' bad behaviour resulted in one of the building's glass windows being shattered, forcing officials to relocate the PATH distribution centre back to the Hagley Park branch in June.
The mixture of beneficiaries from downtown Kingston and those from the Hagley Park area proved too much, explained Lewis.
"So that office (Hagley Park) is now only open to handle PATH disbursments for that area," she said.
Lewis explained that beneficiaries become more irate whenever the government disburses the monies late, as was the case on Thursday.
Last week, elderly persons battered by the stampeding crowd, confused and frustrated, asked that a separate day be set aside for them to collect their PATH benefits.
"Have the old people dem come collect on one day and the young people on the other," fumed 76-year-old Gwendolyn Francis. "Dem need to change up the system, because this cannot work," added Beverley Brown, 59.
Asked about the proposals put forward by the elderly, Lewis said: "I believe that it is something that we have to look into, something that we will have to work out with the Ministry of Labour and Social Security," she said, referencing the government ministry responsible for the PATH programme.
She explained that currently, PATH payments are made in alphabetical order.
Crosbale supported the call for a separate day to be set aside for elder beneficiaries even while basking in her small triumph Thursday.
But her laughter would be shortlived, as the money she collected would go towards paying her transportation costs to St Thomas, where she would bury her younger sister who died from a stroke.
"I am laughing now but tomorrow I can't laugh. Tomorrow is a serious day," she said, a grin still etched on her face.