Portland homeless push
McKenzie challenges councillors to identify land to construct drop-in facility for street people
Matron Carmelita Holson (left) of the Port Antonio Infirmary, leads the touring team into the new male ward at the infirmary — (from second left clockwise) Minister of Local Government Desmond McKenzie; permanent Secretary in the local government ministry, Marsha Henry-Martin; Jacqueline Johnson, project manager, Special Projects Unit NHT; and Member of Parliament for Portland Eastern Ann-Marie Vaz.

PORT ANTONIO, Portland — Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Desmond McKenzie has challenged members of the Portland Municipal Corporation to quickly identify lands for the construction of a drop-in facility for the homeless people in the parish.

Addressing the opening of a male ward at the Port Antonio Infirmary last Friday, McKenzie argued that there is an urgent need for a drop-in facility in the parish.

"One of the challenge that Portland faces right now is the question of the homeless population. The survey shows us that there is an increase [and] quite recently we have had some tragic incidents in the town of Port Antonio. Mayor, councillors, MP [Member of Parliament Ann-Marie Vaz], there is money in the Ministry of Local Government to build a drop-in facility for the homeless population in Portland, but we are waiting on you to identify the land for us to start construction," said McKenzie.

"We have the money in the ministry [but] we need to find the location to build the facility to prevent any further abuse of the homeless population in the parish of Portland. This is something that we are very passionate about because in almost all parishes the Government is moving to provide facility for the homeless population. Mayor, get up, walk, go look the land in Portland that can be used to build a facility for the homeless population," added McKenzie as he appealed for help to get this done.

One of the many homeless people on the streets of Portland. (Photos: Everard Owen)

"I want to appeal to the private sector in Portland to come on board as we have an obligation to care for these people and we should leave no stone unturned in providing for these people," said McKenzie.

The new male ward at the Port Antonio Infirmary was built at a cost of $45 million and McKenzie said it was completed on time and within the budget.

According to McKenzie, when he visited the infirmary in 2012 he was disappointed at its run-down state and the conditions which faced the staff and patients.

McKenzie said he gave a commitment to improve the facility and since then a new female ward was opened with the male ward now done.

"This is the only infirmary…that has benefited from the construction of two wards, a male and a female ward. The facility is built on a difficult terrain and the technical teams from the ministry and here [the Portland Municipal Corporation] must be commended as they did a fantastic job on this rocky terrain. The construction was started in 2019, a retaining wall was built for $3.8 million to protect the property. We partnered with National Housing Trust as we secured some $400 million to build out infirmaries across the country. The facility will provide bed space for 40 persons.

"We put in a brand new building and furnishing, state-of-the-art modern beds for the residents to sleep on. The furnishing cost us over $5.7 million and we spent $20 million on this building. The building comes with water heater, a brand stand by generator and a water harvesting system.

"Below this building is a massive catchment tank that provides water for the facility, as it is a complete overhaul for this Portland facility and when you add $45 million and the $20 million we would have spent over $60 million here in Portland in under five years. We did so at with infirmaries which are over 100 years old. We have also done work around the facility improving the walkway," said McKenzie. Who announced that visits to the infirmaries by family and close friends will resume on the first of April.

BY EVERARD OWEN Observer writer editorial@jamaicaobserver.com

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