MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica — Minister of Local Government Desmond McKenzie has signalled that there will soon be a payout of the promised reward to individuals who helped police nab five teen boys accused of fatally setting a homeless man on fire.
His ministry had earlier announced a $500,000-reward for any information that led to the arrest of those responsible for the August 29 death of 48-year-old Lionel Johnson. McKenzie said the Government intends "to live up to that commitment, once the police have provided the information".
"I got a message, before I left office [Tuesday], that the police at Central [Police Station] have indicated that they are in the process of now sending me a letter and the report on persons who provided information that led to the arrest and charge of persons who burned to death that homeless man in the Corporate Area couple months ago," he said.
The minister made it clear that the abuse of individuals living on the streets would not be tolerated and he implored citizens to be kinder to the homeless, many of whom had simply fallen on hard times.
Johnson, who died in hospital, was severely burnt. The allegations are that his attackers hurled a Molotov cocktail at him while he was in the vicinity of National Heroes' Park in Kingston.
The incident was widely condemned. In October came the shocking news that five boys — between 15 and 17 years old — had been taken into police custody in connection with the attack. They were charged with murder and remanded in custody on their first court appearance.
There are currently more than 3,000 homeless people living on the streets in Jamaica, most of them in the Corporate Area. McKenzie said his ministry is working to help them. He was speaking Wednesday during a workday and ground-breaking ceremony for a new kitchen and dining room at the St James Infirmary. The event also saw the handover of a therapeutic park at the facility.
"We just opened in Kingston the first of its kind, anywhere in Jamaica, a transitional centre. We building one now in Trelawny which is almost complete; and it is our intention that everywhere in Jamaica we will have a transitional centre separate and apart from the drop-in centre," he said.
These will be facilities where the homeless can get a bath, meals and medical attention. McKenzie said that, through discussions with the Ministry of Health and Wellness, a doctor has been assigned to the transitional facility in Kingston.