CONCERNS have been raised over the large number of people living on the streets of the resort town of Ocho Rios. The most recent concerns were raised by a newly established charity group, Friends of Ocho Rios.
The group said that the numbers are alarming, with an unconfirmed estimate of over 200 people roaming the streets of the town, some committing serious acts which endanger many lives.
'Friends of Ocho Rios' has promised to do its part in getting the many street people in Ocho Rios off the streets of the resort town.
Sandra Grey Hamilton, co-founder of the group, said that the organisation will be raising funds and contributing that money to the St Ann Parish Council in support of plans by the Mayor of St Ann's Bay, councillor Desmond Gilmore to establish a halfway house for the homeless in the parish.
Grey Hamilton -- pointed out that there were four different groups of people roaming the streets -- the homeless, the mentally ill, the physically challenged and drug addicts. She said that the group intends to protect visitors to the island, as well as residents, businesses and the street people themselves.
"Not only is this an eyesore, it is now a serious health and safety issue," she said. "The problem with these street people is growing by the day, to the point where it now has serious national implications. It also has now become a safety issue ... safety for the locals, safety for the street people and safety for our overseas visitors," she added.
There have been unconfirmed reports that some persons are allegedly taking many of the street people, especially the mentally ill, into the town and leaving them there.
According to Grey Hamilton, citizens have reportedly witnessed vehicles leaving some of these people in the streets in the wee hours of the morning. "Every day there is a new one," she said.
Checks with the Ocho Rios police could not confirm this.
According to Deputy Superintendent and head of the Ocho Rios police, Gary Francis, he has not had any reports.
"I have not had any such reports. I cannot validate whether it is true or false," he stated.
While some may not consider the situation to be serious, Grey Hamilton pointed out that the horror stories are many, and that more should be done to correct the situation.
"There have been many horror stories, especially as it relates to the mentally ill. Many of these stories have been kept out of the public domain, some for very good reasons," she said.
"Only recently, a woman was walking with her three-year-old child when a mentally challenged person surprised them, kicking the child to the ground," she said.
The occurrences in the town involving street people are often disruptive and dangerous, she stated.
Several business establishments and motor vehicles have reportedly been damaged, with glasses shattered by stones flung by some street people.
Kathlyn Walsh, an employee at the Ocho Rios Craft Market, said that properties are often invaded by the homeless who use the facilities and leave them in an appalling state. She said that they are often drawn to the facility in search of water.
While that is a major concern, Walsh said that she has had experiences of being assaulted by mentally ill street people.
"They even spit on people," she added.
Grey Hamilton said that the safety of children in the town is also a major concern.
The group said that it has been told of a mentally ill man who stands daily with a knife in the vicinity of the Ocho Rios High School, where over 1,000 students are enrolled.
"This is an accident waiting to happen," Grey Hamilton said.
But it gets even more dangerous, as adults and children alike are often subjected to seeing men along street corners masturbating.
Following the rape of a woman in Ocho Rios a few years ago, the Friends of Ocho Rios believe that more should be done to protect people from this type of deviant behaviour.
With so many incidents and limited action taken, Grey Hamilton said that the group is disappointed with the indifference of the authorities, and so will be doing what it can to help.
"It goes without saying that tourism is the lifeblood of Jamaica's economy and the situation here where the resort town is overrun with persons of unsound mind, some of them armed with offensive weapons, has to be curtailed. Heaven forbid if something far more serious, such as death to a local resident or an overseas visitor, should occur -- is it only then that our elected officials will see it fit to act?" she asked.
"We have decided to hold a charity event to get money which we will give to the Parish Council," Grey Hamilton added.
The event which the group will be undertaking to raise the funds will be the Ocho Rios Curry Festival, to be held on Sunday, October 20.
Grey Hamilton and her group are urging persons to support the event, which will help to make the streets of Ocho Rios safer for all.
"We are not waiting for these people to kill or hurt someone," she stated.
While the group is expressing alarm at the situation, Deputy Superintendent of Police Gary Francis said that the police had not received any major reports of incidents involving street people.
However, he pointed out that this does not falsify claims by persons that they have been attacked.
During an interview with the Mayor of St Ann's Bay, Desmond Gilmore, he revealed that the Parish Council welcomes any assistance that it can get. However, he pointed out that he was not aware of the intention of the 'Friends of Ocho Rios' to partner with the Council.
The mayor said that he was unable to confirm the number of street people in Ocho Rios.
"At this time we are trying to count the numbers," he said.