SJMC to provide better support, care for parish's homelessThursday, October 14, 2021
BY ROCHELLE CLAYTON
MONTEGO BAY, St James — In observance of this year's World Homeless Day, the St James Municipal Corporation (SJMC) announced plans to provide better support and care for the homeless in the parish.
Chairman of the corporation's St James Parish Homelessness Committee, Councillor Richard Vernon, in an interview with the Jamaica Observer West, shared that the initiative forms part of efforts to provide much-needed assistance to people in the parish who have fallen on hard times, and have been forced into homelessness.
He noted that the corporation has decided to conduct its own point in time survey, a breakaway from the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development's established five-year survey, to properly regulate information about the parish's homeless citizens.
“From the committee level, we met with the Committee for the Upliftment of the Mentally Ill (CUMI), National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA), and other agencies that deal with people who are homeless or who have fallen outside of the social structure, and we decided that we want to help these [homeless] people. But to do so, we first must identify them,” Vernon explained.
“The Board of Supervision that is out of the Ministry of Local Government conducts a point in time survey every five years, however, we want to get more current data to work with because five years later, persons might be in different places. So, there might be a homeless person in St James today, and by tomorrow they are in another parish, or their situation might be temporary, so they're homeless this week and next week they get a place.”
Vernon, who is also the deputy mayor of Montego Bay, was speaking to the Observer West following the committee's World Homeless Day feeding programme held at the Open Heart Charitable Mission last Sunday, which saw some 135 individuals benefiting from meals. The St James Health Services was also on location to offer COVID-19 vaccination to those who wished to become vaccinated against the deadly virus.
Medical officer of health at the St James Health Services, Dr Francine Phillips-Kelly, who was on location, shared that the health department was grateful to have partnered with the SJMC on the initiative where they inoculated 43 individuals with the one-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.
“It [was] wonderful to do this collaboration. It was an idea that was birthed in the municipal corporation, they reached out to the St James Health Department, and they discussed partnering for World Mental Health Day where they offered meals to some of our mentally challenged individuals and some of the persons who are living on our streets. As an addition, we were able to partner with them to offer COVID-19 vaccination to all the individuals who were willing to accept vaccination,” said Dr Phillips-Kelly.
“A total of 43 people were inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccine. Not all of them are from the street, some are from the Refuge of Hope Shelter in Montego Bay where they sleep at nights. Some of the people would be [considered as] itinerant so we wouldn't want to give a vaccine that we can't follow up to administer a second dose for,” she added.
Representative of the Rehab Sports Bar & Grill in Montego Bay, one of the initiative's sponsors, Andre Dwyer, told the Observer West that his organisation was eager to assist with the provision of meals to the homeless people in the city.
“Parish council (SJMC) contacted us to say that they were going to do an event for the people, so we threw in our little two cents because we love dem thing here and over the years we a do dem thing here…so, for Rehab Sports Bar it wasn't hard. We teamed up with the parish council and came down here to ensure that they got the food and drinks. We love what we saw, and we loved the turnout,” said Dwyer.
Vernon also shared that through partnerships with other government organisations, rehabilitation measures will be undertaken to “get them [homeless people] back into society.”
“We want to identify all of the persons who are homeless right across the parish, then we will categorise them into those who are substance abusers, those who are not on their mental health medications and those who are homeless because of other circumstances, and match their situation to possible opportunities... like persons who are substance abusers, we get them rehabilitated through the NCDA [National Council on Drug Abuse],” he explained.
“So, we don't want to just take them up off the road, put them in a place and then put them back on the road. No, we want to turn around their lives or at least help them to do it, and then we put them back into society.”
In the meantime, inspector of poor at SJMC, Pauline Carter-Lecky, noted that the corporation's poor relief department continues to give support to the parish's homeless citizens.
“We give them daily hygiene care, two hot meals, change of clothing and ensure those on medication are given same. The centre (Open Heart Charitable Mission) opens seven days per week even on lockdown days.
We give treats at least three times per year. Not only persons at the facility but some on the outskirts of the town,” Carter-Lecky told Observer West.