Heartache for the homeless
The life experiences of Marjorie Chin-Lewis have imitated the motion of a roller coaster.
Chin-Lewis and a number of other persons, some of them family members, have squatted at 43 Hanover Street in central Kingston for decades, but after owners of the property, the Urban Development Corporation (UDC), showed up years ago issuing notice to vacate, they were relocated to a dilapidated building at 60 Hanover Street, at the intersection with Laws Street. They said they were promised to be returned to the land after housing units were constructed, but delay has set in.
Chin-Lewis claimed the conditions at the Hanover and Laws streets property were so poor that when it rained, all their belongings got wet and were damaged by the water. She also complained about rodent infestation.
She said her elderly mother, who was constantly getting wet when it rained, eventually died from pneumonia.
The UDC had reportedly started building some units on the property but they were left unfinished for various reasons, and after not being able to cope any longer with the degrading conditions at Laws Street, some of the residents moved back to the premises at 43 Hanover Street, which they said was much safer.
“From we come back over here we feel and sleep more comfortable. We lived at 43 Hanover Street for many years. When mi modda get access to the land, dem seh we could live as long we want, but the UDC buy it and them put we over 60 Hanover Street, but when the rain fall, we soak.
“My mother died on July 14, 2019. The conditions was bad because rain flood di place like river. It come offa di building and water just come straight dung pon we.
We go to the political representatives and dem mek we come back over here, but dem a gi we seven months to stay,” she told The Gleaner, pointing out that they prefer to stay where they are now and are willing to find means to pay utilities and rent.
“Mi would live right yah suh, just charge we di rent, water rate and light bill, because we nuh have nuh weh else fi go. We might leave yah suh and go somewhere else and you hear seh we dead, people just kill we off. Mi woulda like get some clothes and a bed, because everything wet up over the next place.”
Chin-Lewis’ sister, Martha Townsend, who also moved back to 43 Hanover Street, said the situation inside the old building was “bad, bad, bad”.
“When rain fall, all a mi things dem wet up and damage. The wall crack and it wasn’t safe. One time mi up deh and it catch fire and damage mi bed. It is a disgrace, the building crack and could give way at any time, and a four pickney mi have and one inna belly.”
The People’s National Party’s Imani Duncan-Price, who is hopeful of becoming the next member of parliament (MP) for Kingston Central after current MP Ronald Thwaites hangs up his political gloves, told The Gleaner that she became aware of the situation while meeting and greeting constituents one day.
She shared that Thwaites had made initial contact with the UDC about constructing houses on the property, which they did. However, issues were raised about the size of the houses.
“Unfortunately, the units were small and so the UDC said it would have to be modified before they (the residents) could move back in, although they had already put in sewage and pipes and other infrastructure. Since that time, there was a change of government and Thwaites, as MP, fought to see how we could move on the situation in a positive way.”
She said the new units were far dryer and more comfortable than the upstairs building they were staying in.
“When I saw the empty units I agreed they were small, but when I saw their current living conditions, over there was more sturdy and dryer than where they were living. This family lived on this land for decades. We went to UDC to try to get possession of the land itself, but there was no action forthcoming from the UDC.
“I even got a contractor to tell me how much it would cost to finish the units, have them cleaned up and put in doors, windows, new toilets, and get them functional.”
Several attempts to reach M\General Manager of the UDC, Heather Pinnock, for comment, have been unsuccessful.