Residents of Bond Street in Denham Town worry about more than crime
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.
They live in a community where the threat of violence is ever near and children are taught from an early age how to take cover once the guns begin to 'bark'.
In this 'Valley of Death' called Bond Street in Denham Town, west Kingston - where several persons have been killed in the past 10 years - residents also live with a daily threat that the humble places which, they call home, could go up in flames at the drop of a match.
Many of the residents live in the typical board structures found in inner-city communities across the Corporate Area with each building in touching distance of each other. Most have illegal electricity connections and five years ago some residents came face-to-face with this threat when fire destroyed their houses.
"That fire was in 2010 and my house was one of the first to catch, but I wasn't here, I was in the country," said 32-year-old Shellica Foster, who now lives with her mother, brother and two children.
"They say is an insane person who started the fire. He lit his house and the fire spread to mine because of the closeness. I lost everything; priceless, precious things got lost in the fire," added Foster.
Bowed but not broken by the devastating fire, Foster and other residents of the tenement yard who lost their houses received replacement units from the charity organisation Food For the Poor, but, as is usually the case, these are also made of board and set up on a small parcel of land leaving them very close to each other.
"My house was burnt down and I received one, and I am very grateful. But, at the same time, I am fearful that I could experience the same thing again or worse," said Foster.
"The most you can do, is get your documents in one place, and, in case there is a fire, you can grab them if that is all you can grab and just go."
Camiel Wint, who hails from Trelawny, but moved to Kingston in search of a better life, says the prospect of fire destroying her dwelling constantly plagues her mind.
"Before I moved in here, this place burnt down twice," said Wint. "It is on my mind every day that it could happen again, because it is board and not concrete."
An elderly woman, Amy Wilson, who lives in the yard, warned her neighbours to "be careful of the fire they use to cook". She also echoed the sentiments of many others that they would much have preferred concrete structures.
"If we could get concrete structures it would be much better, because if there was a fire we know we wouldn't be affected like that," said Tamara Gordon.
"The reasons why we didn't get concrete houses, I don't know, but Food For the Poor has been generous enough to give us back a house and as they say beggars have no choice."
According to member of parliament for the area, Desmond McKenzie, fires have been plaguing the constituency for years.
"We record on average 10 to 15 fires a year. In some months, we have it (fire) back-to-back," said the opposition member of parliament.
"As a matter of fact, within the last two and a half weeks, we have had four fires in the constituency. There are more than 1,000 persons that have been affected by fires in west Kingston that we are still not able to find anywhere to put them. We can't provide houses for them."
But despite the regularity of fires in the area, McKenzie said based on the cost that would be involved, it is just not possible to provide any better housing solutions for fire victims at this time.
"We get these houses when we appeal to Food For the Poor. We get some of these houses through the JEEP programme and all of these houses are made out of board," said McKenzie.
"The fact is that when we have to respond to a fire, we are dependent on agencies to assist us and we don't have the capacity in terms of funding to build concrete structures."
McKenzie acknowledged that the close proximity of the houses allows fires to spread quickly and affect several persons.
He contends that what is needed to remedy the situation is a complete overhaul of the housing stock in west Kingston, as on a daily basis the houses just fall apart and the area is prone to fire.
"A lot of these boards are pitch pine boards, and a lot of these houses were built back in the days when pitch pine was the thing, so the slightest spark it catches. So, in order to mitigate against that, somebody has to make a decision as to how you are going to deal with the housing stock and if that is not done you are going to continue to have this problem."