Drop-in centre haven from the streets

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

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THE Drop-In Centre in Buckfield, St Ann, has been a refuge for homeless and mentally ill individuals in Ocho Rios and surrounding areas, providing them with a haven from the streets, and catering to their basic needs.

The $14-million centre, which opened its doors on May 11, 2018, is one of several such facilities under the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development's social protection programme to assist needy people across the country.

In its first year of operation the facility tended to 9,000 homeless and mentally ill individuals.

The St Ann Municipal Corporation has direct responsibility for the oversight of the drop-in centre.

In an interview with JIS News, mayor of St Ann's Bay, Councillor Michael Belnavis said the facility not only provides food for the 35 people who visit daily, but also offers spiritual enrichment and comfort.

“The drop-in centre is essentially an area where we accommodate the homeless [and] the indigent people who need help. We provide them with three meals a day, clothing, [bath], medication, haircuts, spiritual guidance; someone to talk to, someone to be a friend, with a little love,” he shared.

He says members of staff create a humane environment for clients, who are hosted in a cafeteria-like setting where they are served high-quality cuisine.

“We do health seminars, we read to them, we embrace them — and we love them and share in their concerns, and motivate them. They are also allowed to play games. A lot of these individuals are downtrodden… so they need to be in a situation where they can… have someone appreciate them for who they are and what they are,” he added.

Mayor Belnavis points out that many clients stay on the compound for the entire day, interacting with others and making use of the green space that surrounds the centre.

“We have a big lawn and there are several trees with birds, and the environment is therapeutic...It is actually a good place to be, so they don't have to be on the road,” he noted.

Those who utilise the drop-in centre have high praises for the facility and the top-quality treatment meted out to them by the staff.

Pansy Brown says the centre has provided her with a safe place. She also depends on the facility for food and spiritual enrichment.

“I was once on the streets; I lived in dilapidated buildings. Because of the drop-in centre I come and I have breakfast. I hustle like bag juice — anything — and things little bit better now,” she told JIS News.

Brown also tries to give back to the facility.

“Anything I plant, I put a little here and if I get something I take it here,” she expressed.

She credits the staff for the good treatment meted out to clients, particularly those who are mentally ill.

“The ladies (staff)… see to it that they (mentally ill clients) get a proper bath; they get a change of clothes,” she pointed out.

Noel Brown, another client, tells JIS News that the drop-in centre has been impacting his life in a positive way.

“The people take us in off the street so we can have our meals — and we are glad for what [they have] done. They give us proper service. They hug wi and they make wi feel like we are at home. We get to share each other's problems and I am glad about that. I am so happy,” he says.

The charity group, the Street Church, lends a helping hand to the staff at the drop-in centre in caring for the homeless and mentally ill who visit the facility.

One member of the group, Marjorie Palmer, said that in addition to providing food and other supplies, the church ministry refers individuals to the drop-in centre.

“We partner with them by supplying meals three days per week and anything else that they may need. We help to distribute clothes and more, and anyone new who comes on the street — we encourage them to come here. We tell them what the drop-in centre does,” she shared.

Palmer commended the Government for establishing the facility, which she says is making life easier for the homeless and mentally ill in Ocho Rios and its environs.

“The team, they have been doing an excellent job. They try their best to accommodate persons and they can also come for fellowship. They can just sit here and hang out in the day, which is a good thing, instead of just sitting [on] the roadside,” she told JIS News.

In the meantime, Mayor Belnavis said there are plans to expand the Ocho Rios drop-in centre to accommodate individuals overnight.

A total of four drop-in centres have been opened by the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development in the parishes of St Ann, St Mary, Hanover, and St Elizabeth.

The Government is expected to spend in excess of $350 million during the 2019/2020 fiscal year to construct three multi-purpose drop-in centres for indigent persons in the Corporate Area, Portland and St Catherine.

It is projected that by the end of 2020 all 14 parishes will have drop-in facilities.


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