Squatters move into vacant houses and turn hydrants into street side showers in Coral Gardens
Karrie Williams, Gleaner Writer
WESTERN BUREAU:Residents of Coral Gardens in St James say their community has been plagued with squatters who have moved into vacant houses, where they resided for almost a decade without basic utilities or access to proper sanitary facilities.
President of the Coral Gardens Citizens Association, Merline Duhaney, told Western Focus that there are a total of 10 vacant houses which are currently occupied by squatters within the community. She said Lincoln Place, Graham Terrace, and Ironshore Crescent are the roads on which most of the houses can be found.
Duhaney said that with no proper sanitary conveniences available to the squatters, they are creating a major health concern as they are defecating in plastic bags and disposing of them on vacant lots inside the community, as well as along the community's beachfront, opposite the Coral Gardens Police Station.
"They defecate into plastic bags and throw them on to open lots, and this is creating a major health concern for us legitimate residents ... even on the Coral Gardens beachfront. We sent someone there to clean it up and the man wouldn't because he said there was nothing but faeces tied up in bags and thrown over there. This is what they do in the community, and now we can't get anybody to cut it (grass) because they say it's very filthy; it's terrible what goes on," Duhaney said.
She said another major problem is the misuse of fire hydrants by the squatters who use them to bathe and to supply water for other domestic purposes.
"They are using the fire hydrants for water because they have no water in the houses which they occupy and they also have no sanitary conveniences, so they use the hydrants to take showers daily," Duhaney said at a recent meeting of the association.
firefighting efforts hampered
When contacted, district officer at the Ironshore Fire Station, Oneil Kerr, said the misuse of the fire hydrants was of great concern as firefighting efforts can become significantly hampered by the illicit use.
When asked which agency was responsible to protect the hydrants from miscreants, Kerr said it was the National Water Commission's (NWC) responsibility to effectively prevent the misuse of the hydrants.
"That is outside of our reach. We would not be the regulators for that. It would be (National) Water Commission," he said. "We access the hydrants to aid in our firefighting operations, not to say the hydrants are owned by us ... . We do effect repairs to a limited number, but it's a uniformed effort between the Water Commission and the Fire Brigade," he said.
The district officer further said it was very easy for just about anyone to open a fire hydrant and gain unauthorised access to water.
"The thing about those hydrants, to make the key or to open those hydrants is very simple. It doesn't require much. Anybody having links with Water Commission or any plumber can simply use one of those big wrenches and they can access water," Kerr disclosed.
But Duhaney said although the residents say they are ready to see the back of the illegal squatters, they are discovering that is easier said than done. She said, in most instances, the owners for the houses cannot be found and this allows the problem to persist as the police are unable to prosecute them.
"I don't know if they have owners. We've investigated and, for some of them, they say the owners are abroad; for others, the owners have passed and there is contention with the children. These people (alleged squatters) claim that they have owners' rights because they were granted permission to stay in the houses, but they have no water and they have no sanitary convenience ... . The police say they don't have the Vagrancy Act anymore, so it's out of their control and they can't put them out," she said.