Sun | Feb 23, 2020

18 years living under bridge - Man, companions appeal for a home

Published:Tuesday | January 14, 2020 | 12:23 AMAndre Williams/Staff Reporter
Paul Grant hangs out laundry on water main while Kimone Lewis prepares to give him a hand. Grant said that he has been living under the Edgewater bridge in Portmore, St Catherine, for the past 18 years.
Paul Grant and Kimone Lewis have been living under a bridge in Edgewater, Portmore, St Catherine, for the past 18 years. According to the state information service, there are approximately 2,000 registered homeless persons islandwide.
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A Portmore, St Catherine, man who has been homeless for 18 years and took refuge under the Edgewater Bridge ever since an arson attack rendered him homeless is pleading for a roof over his head.

Paul Grant, 55, who earns meagre wages doing odd landscaping jobs, was the first occupant and now resides at the location with three other homeless women, one of whom he says is pregnant for him.

He said he fell on hard times after being burned out of his house after resisting the entreaties of men to hide stolen goods from a business place.

“The man dem light di house when mi de sleep. Mi build a nice board house. The only thing mi save was the clothes I had on,” said Grant, who revealed that his case had been referred, without luck, to charity group Food For The Poor by St Catherine South East Member of Parliament Colin Fagan.

Grant is one of several thousand homeless people across Jamaica, but only 1,971 are official registered, according to state agency, the Jamaica Information Service.

Attempts were made to contact Portmore Mayor Leon Thomas about the municipality’s handling of its homeless population, but calls to his cell phone rang unanswered.

HOMELESS SHELTERS

Government-sponsored drop-in centres have been built in St Elizabeth last May, and in St Ann and St Mary in 2018, but much of Jamaica’s homeless population have never set foot inside the shelters. Another shelter is slated to be constructed on King Street, Kingston, at a projected cost of $120 million.

But others such as Grant and his companions in the mostly dormitory community of Portmore have carved out a life and livelihood on the margins of society.

“Dem treat me good. A yesterday (Sunday) mi deh here and hear Mr Mally a holler after me and me go deh and a one big whole chicken him give me, rice, oil and something, and we cook and we eat,” Grant said, beaming.

He and his fellow bridge squatters face many dangers – both natural and man-made.

“Thieves come here and trouble we stuff sometimes and the rain. But it nuh trouble me, the only time it trouble me a when it come with breeze and it blow in,” he said, pointing to his two sentries, dogs named ‘Blackie’ and ‘Whitey’.

The Edgewater Bridge offers even more morbid tales, such as crocodile sightings and floating bodies.

“Anybody weh drown in deh a me tek dem out, you know. Roughly ‘bout seven. I remember a lady from Westchester a run and nuh know the place and drop inna the water and drown, and me tek her out,” he said.

Grant also told The Gleaner that he undergoes regular medical checks at Kingston Public Hospital.

“A regular mi go do my AIDS test just for fun,” he quipped.

andre.williams@gleanerjm.com