St Ann homeless shunned shelters during ElsaTuesday, July 06, 2021
BY HORACE MILLS
OCHO RIOS, St Ann — Emergency shelters were empty here for much of Sunday while several homeless people milled about the forlorn streets during persistent rainfall associated with Tropical Storm Elsa.
A handful of them flatly told the Jamaica Observer that they had no intention to swap the streets for the shelters. Others said they were not aware the shelters were an option.
“I never know them open; nobody never tell wi,” said a man who gave his name as Junior Haye.
A similar sentiment came from another man, who perched on an embankment beside rising waters under a bridge in the vicinity of the Ocho Rios Police Station.
When the Observer informed him about the availability of shelters at the Ocho Rios Primary and Ocho Rios High schools, he gleefully left the bridge. He, along with others, immediately headed towards the shelters.
In the meantime, the largest group of homeless people — numbering 10 — was seen hanging out under a shed at the Ocho Rios Transportation Centre, which was abandoned by commuters and motorists throughout Sunday.
At one end of the shed a woman lay on a makeshift bed, while a man used a broom in his frantic effort to keep out murky water.
“The Government spend millions to build a drop-in centre [in Ocho Rios] and it nuh have anywhere for people like us to sleep,” one of the homeless men lamented.
The drop-in centre, built at a cost of $14 million, provides meals for the homeless and facilities for them to have a shower.
A residential area is also under construction there, according to Sydney Stewart, chairman of the St Ann Municipal Corporation.
He told the Observer that, during this hurricane season, the homeless people throughout St Ann are being allowed to use any of the designated emergency shelters.
“Even if they are street people, they would be hosted at the shelters too. The Minister [of Local Government Desmond McKenzie] pointed out to us distinctly that we have to take in the street people,” Stewart noted.
He also explained that, during the rainfall on Sunday, his officers struggled to get one homeless woman to leave the side walk near the Ocho Rios Police Station and to instead occupy the facilities provided.
“Even while those homeless people have rights, we have a duty to protect them — it is an obligation that we have,” Stewart said.
“If we tell them once or twice or three times [to move to the shelters] and they refuse, we will — not by force — ensure that we take them, very calmly and very safely, to the centres.”
Stewart, in the meantime, stated that St Ann did not suffer any major fallout from the rainfall linked to Tropical Storm Elsa.
“It wasn't a very heavy rain [here in St Ann], but evidence of rainfall was all over the parish. We have not had any major disturbances — only two fallen trees that were reported. We contacted the fire department and they had those [trees] cleared up. All the councillors across the parish are reporting nothing major.”
He further explained that the parish was spared major flooding, partly due to a fairly recent drain-cleaning programme.
“We did our drain-cleaning programme comprehensively in the last two months, and of course I think that, too prevented us from getting any flooding,” Stewart said.
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