OCHO RIOS, St Ann — Members of the homeless population in St Ann will now have a more comfortable place to lay their heads with the opening of a night shelter at Buckfield here on Friday.
The facility is expected to house 14 males and six females.
The $22-million facility was officially opened by Minister of Local Government and Community Development Desmond McKenzie, who spoke of the Government's concern about the number of homeless residents in St Ann, especially in Ocho Rios. Approximately 90 of the estimated 100 homeless people in St Ann live on the streets of Ocho Rios.
"It is a tourism sector; it is also the major hub in one of our largest municipalities in the country. So while we make provisions for tourists and while we put in the necessary infrastructure for other persons, there was the need to ensure that the homeless population, those who we consider to be on the lower end of society, that we... provide for them," McKenzie said.
He said the facility, which is an extension of the Ocho Rios Drop-in Centre, is a continuation of the Government's care for the poor. The minister said the combined cost of both facilities is around $35 million dollars.
"We have not only provided these facilities, we have provided funding to feed [those who use them]. There are some who, you might give them a five-star hotel, they don't want to stay in the facility. They rather go out on the streets. But we make sure they get something to eat. We have our indoor programme, we have the outdoor programme, we have all the social programmes that cater for poor people," he said.
The minster, who noted that the night shelter should have been completed long ago, said it was built in honour of the late Member of Parliament for North East St Ann Shahine Robinson. She died in May 2020 from lung cancer.
"My only regret is that the late Shahine Robinson is not here, because I remember when I spoke to her about putting in a homeless facility she said to me, 'Desmond, the town needs much more than the shelter over there, it needs something else.' And I said to her, once we can find the location we will complete the circle of social development in Ocho Rios," McKenzie added.
During Friday's opening ceremony, Member of Parliament for St Ann North East Marsha Smith spoke of the impact that the facility will have.
"The homeless are more vulnerable at night; the creepy-crawly come out at night. And when it is that you make provisions for when they are most at risk you are actually making the greatest impact…What I want us all to take home today is that when we create the resources for night shelter we are impacted physically, spiritually, and mentally," she said.