Sun | Oct 21, 2018

Stuck in a firetrap! - Landless and helpless, residents of James Street live in fear of burning flames

Published:Sunday | June 7, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Linda Hyatt: “Right now, mi just a pay out to NHT and I don’t see how I am benefiting."
Moving through the narrow corridor which seperates the houses in James Street is 43-year-old Venice Parker
The burning desire to move out of a board house keeps 43-year-old Venice Parker occupied.
Suzette Jack lost all her belonging in the 1999 fire on James Street.

Housing woes in several inner-city communities have forced scores of persons to live in board houses on premises which could ignite in a minute. Today, The Sunday Gleaner continues its series looking at some of those communities.

A major fire in 1999 destroyed their wooden tenement dwelling on James Street in Central Kingston, with the flames taking all their belongings.

Food For The Poor houses were built as replacements, but these, too, are made of wood and zinc and are so close that there is not much space to walk, creating a combustible maze.

A number of these Food For The Poor houses were destroyed in 2002 and another went up in flames just two months ago. On these two occasions, it was the quick action of the residents that prevented more widespread destruction.

Linda Hyatt, who along with 13 other family members live at 43 James Road, had to relocate after the wooden tenement dwelling that she resided in at Hanover Street was burnt down. But she was soon experiencing a terrible case of  déjà vu.

"I was living at Hanover Street and fire destroyed over there and my sister-in-law gave me her room around here (James Street), as she was going to move. And I come back here and fire destroy it again. So a two times mi get burned out and on both occasions I never save anything."


housing solutions


Hyatt, who charged that National Housing Trust (NHT) payments are deducted from her salary each month, argued that more should be done to provide housing solutions for low-income earners such as herself.

"Right now, mi just a pay out to NHT and I don't see how I am benefiting," said Hyatt. "We have a lot of people in here paying NHT and right now, I can identify somewhere if is the land is their problem."

However, the NHT says it has plans to help residents of these inner-city communities.

"The NHT is in the process of finalising plans for housing intervention in inner-city communities. The plans will particularly focus on providing housing solutions for NHT contributors who live in these communities," said the Trust in a response to The Sunday Gleaner.

"We expect to begin a pilot project before the end of this financial year."

This type of assistance could not come soon enough for the close to 100 residents that live between 43 and 45 James Street, as they dread their few possessions going up in another blaze.

"Everybody got burnt out; nobody got to save anything," said 43-year-old Venice Parker in relation to the 1999 fire.

"It can happen again, because a the same board house we go back in. We would like better structures, but I don't know if the place is big enough for the concrete house. That would be better for us, because right now some little things out to build up back in the community like war, and you know gunshot go through board house."

Suzette Jack has been left traumatised by the events of December 13, 1999, so much so that she is afraid to leave her small house unattended.

Jack is yet to recover all that she had lost 16 years ago and therefore dreads the possibility of another such disaster.

"I was at work and hear say mi house on fire. I didn't get to save anything, all I came and saw were two poles standing," Jack recollected.

"Mi always hear people say them get burnt out and I always say I don't want to experience it, but I experience it and it was very hard. I think about it every day, even the other day there was a little fire next door and I felt like I was going to mad.

"We wouldn't like if we get a next fire, because I don't know how I would mange and a lot of people in here don't know how they would manage."

That 'little fire next door' that Jack referred to actually destroyed the house of a father and his son, forcing them to now be living under a tarpaulin.

"The youth them had to use buckets and take water out the drums and out the fire and wet up the house them that were close by. And meanwhile we a wet and out, and a move out some things, thief there trying to take what they could.

"Everything burn up for him and right now is a tent him live under and get a one bed and put it under there. There have been at least four fires in the area."

But while the residents say they take precautions such as not leaving the house unattended and not lighting open fires, they do admit to using illegal electrical connections which they are aware puts them at risk.

"We know say it (fire) can happen again, but we can't do any better. If the land was our own now everybody could build up their concrete house and get them thing straight, but the land is not ours," reasoned Dave Watson. "Too many houses did drop in from beginning, a that spoil it."