Wed | Oct 21, 2020

As bulldozers move in, White Wing holdouts scramble for shelter

Published:Tuesday | September 29, 2020 | 12:15 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer
Dane Nicholson speaks to journalists as bulldozers began demolition of informal houses at White Wing, near Three Miles, on Monday. The National Housing Trust will be building a residential complex on the property.
Dane Nicholson speaks to journalists as bulldozers began demolition of informal houses at White Wing, near Three Miles, on Monday. The National Housing Trust will be building a residential complex on the property.
Thaletha Barrett of White Wing talks about her mounting expenses.
Thaletha Barrett of White Wing talks about her mounting expenses.
Residents of White Wing observe a cleared section of the southwest St Andrew community on Monday.
Residents of White Wing observe a cleared section of the southwest St Andrew community on Monday.
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Like scores of others, 70-year-old Thaletha Barrett had made her home on the sprawling lands at 10 Olympic Way, White Wing. She is among the longest-living residents remaining in the partially bulldozed inner-city community, having been there since 1974.

Plans are well advanced for the construction of a housing complex, but a few holdouts are now scrambling for alternative living arrangements.

Barrett said residents were aware of the pending development as far back as when Portia Simpson Miller was the member of parliament of St Andrew South West. The septuagenarian believes that demolition is a “necessary evil” in the quest for development, but some residents have not yet found new lodging.

She fears that once the National Housing Trust (NHT) completes construction of the single-flat housing units, she won’t be qualified to own one.

Barrett said she was among several residents to have got a flat in an apartment nearby but noted that she chose to remain at White Wing because of her health complications.

To make matters worse, Barrett said she is now in arrears to the NHT by some $300,000. Her crisis has been worsened having lost her job amid the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, bulldozers moved closer and closer to toppling the zinc and wooden structure where she has raised her family for more than four decades.

A diabetic with nine toes, Barrett can’t manage the rigours of negotiating stairs.

“I wouldn’t war against development. It is a good thing and people need proper housing,” she said.

“I raised all my grandchildren and great-grandchildren here and I love over here, but I am willing to go.”

The NHT had said that 248 housing units had been constructed at 231 Spanish Town Road in Kingston between August 2005 and October 2007. They were handed over to residents of White Wing. But state officials have suggested that many residents opted to rent out the new premises to have their cake and eat it.

Attempts to reach MP Angela Brown Burke on Monday were unsuccessful. Calls to NHT Corporate and Public Affairs Manager Dwayne Berbick also went unanswered.

The few remaining residents at White Way said that Brown Burke has been in frequent contact with them and has even requested that workmen “understand our situation”, which they have tried to honour,” said one woman who gave her name only as Kenesha.

In July, the NHT said that construction contracts were awarded in June and July 2020.

Meanwhile, 33-year-old Dane Nicholson, who shelters in a partly destroyed section of what used to be his house, is uncertain about his future.

Nicholson said he has nowhere and no one to ask for help. He has been sleeping practically in the open ever since bulldozers tore down a section of his house.

“I don’t live anywhere now, I don’t have any family to assist me, I grew myself, so I am just hoping the MP will find it in her heart to assist me so I can get somewhere to rest my head until a place my girlfriend is sorting is finished,” he said.

Nicholson, a self-acclaimed chef, said that he once sold breakfast on the streets but has gone on hard times since the emergence of COVID.

“I have to be here getting a little hustle from my empress who sells at a stall at Three Miles,” he told The Gleaner.