Sat | Jan 23, 2021

Kingston homeless shelter mystery - JSIF blames KSAMC for failure to start project announced seven years ago

Published:Sunday | January 27, 2019 | 12:00 AM
An open lot on Upper King Street, which had been identified to house the homeless shelter that was announced seven years ago.

Mystery surrounds the planned construction of a homeless shelter in downtown Kingston, with the two state agencies involved unable to provide clarity as to why the work is yet to begin some seven years after it was first announced.

In November 2011, then Mayor of Kingston Desmond McKenzie announced that the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) had allocated $65 million towards the building of the shelter, and that the project would start in that year.

But up to late last week, the work had not yet started and Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Council (KSAMC) could not say if or when work would begin, despite labelling the issue a priority.

According to JSIF, the project never got under way because the KSAMC failed to meet basic requirements.

“About the downtown/homeless shelter …we were examining it for the BNTF (Basic Needs Trust Fund) funding, and it was actually board-approved,” Loy Malcolm, general manager for technical services at JSIF, toldThe Sunday Gleaner.

She charged that a breakdown of communication between the state agencies saw the project being shelved.

“We requested, but never received, a formal and solid commitment from KSAMC on operational issues, for example, recurring budgetary support, administrative standards, etc.,” added Malcolm.

She said the last formal letter to the KSAMC on the issue was sent months after the project’s announcement in 2011.

But last week, Town Clerk Robert Hill dismissed the claim of KSAMC’s failure to the turn over basic documentation to JSIF as “fake news”.

“We are in dialogue with the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development on the matter. A further update will be provided,” Hill responded, two weeks afterThe Sunday Gleaner raised questions about the project.

“I wouldn’t want to say anything more about it,” said Hill, in response to questions about a start date, funding for the project, or why the project failed to get under way in 2011.

He added that he did not want to pre-empt McKenzie, now minister of local government and community development, who is to make a formal statement about the shelter later this year.

At the start of this year, Mayor of Kingston Delroy Williams announced that the Government would be constructing a drop-in shelter in the Corporate Area in response to an influx of homeless persons to the parish.

According to Williams, the shelter is to be located on Upper King Street and should accommodate 160 homeless persons.

Speaking at an annual New Year’s Day fete which catered for 600 homeless persons, Williams argued that they enter the capital city from all over the island and often settle around the St William Grant Park.

“We would prefer not have any homeless within the city, but that is a fact that we do have persons who are homeless and we do our best through the inspector of Poor’s Office and the Poor Relief Department throughout the year to accommodate them,” said Williams.

The Ministry of Local Government was allocated $28 million in the 2018-2019 Estimates of Expenditure to construct drop-in centres for homeless persons in parishes which were without this facility.

The anticipated target for this fiscal year, which ends March 31, is for the construction of two centres in St Thomas and Trelawny. A further $30 million was allocated for the protection and care of the homeless.