Tue | Oct 23, 2018

Letter of the Day | Spare a thought for homeless during hurricanes

Published:Friday | October 7, 2016 | 12:10 AM


There is something unmistakably Jamaican about how we respond to storms, and Hurricane Matthew was no different. Almost every tropical storm or hurricane sighting starts with initial scepticism and recounting of previous failed forecasts by the Met Service.

As the system gets closer to Jamaica, the number of sceptics slowly reduces, and then when the hurricane is one or two days away, there is a mad rush to supermarkets and wholesales. Customers duel over bread, crackers and canned foods. Mothers and grandmothers have massive cookouts of all those delicious meats they were saving up.

Port Royal residents display their contempt for weather forecasters and refuse to relocate, preferring to sink with their ships. One can expect hurricane culture to come into full swing every time without fail. I mean, who doesn't love the sound of last-minute battening down and the sweet smell of kerosene lamps.

An unfortunate aspect of our hurricane culture, however, is that it demonstrates how our government has failed those among us who are homeless.

Where, in our rush to beat our bakery aisle rivals to the last six loaves of white bread on the shelves, do we stop to consider the homeless men and women who we, including myself, routinely ignore on our way to school, work, etc.? These persons who regularly sleep on concrete sidewalks on thin pieces of cardboard with hardly any shelter are made especially vulnerable during the hurricane season.

What exactly is the long-term policy and/or strategy to provide shelter for those persons who find themselves dispossessed and destitute?




Successive governments have managed to skirt around the issue of homelessness.

Even though they have agreed at the international level that all Jamaicans have the right to social security and safety nets where they are vulnerable, they have not done enough for the homeless. Where in the grand schemes for national development, macroeconomic growth and job creation is there consideration for the homeless? And if there is consideration, where in that is there a strategy to reduce the incidence of homelessness?

Has the Government given thought to those persons who are most affected by displacement and the special measures that need to be taken to remedy their situation? Pregnant teens, persons with mental-health challenges, persons who are poor, and LGBT persons are at heightened risk for the displacement. How will our Government address their realities?

Half of the year is spent with the knowledge that a tropical storm or hurricane could ravage the island within days. Within this context, homelessness is not an issue that should be easily avoided. A nation cannot be 'prepared' for a disaster where there are those among us who the Government gives scant regard.


Policy Officer, WE-Change