By Adrian Frater, News Editor
THE ST. James Parish Council is prepared to assume fully responsibility for the Committee for the Upliftment of the Mentally Ill (CUMI's) night shelter rather than allow its shutdown, says Montego Bay Mayor, Hugh Solomon.
He outlined the council's commitment in an interview with The Gleaner yesterday, after CUMI administrators stated that financial problems might force them to close the shelter soon.
"If CUMI is no longer able to operate the night shelter, the Council will just have to find the resources to do it," said Mayor Solomon, who played a key role in the Council's decision to donate Parish Council lands for the creation of the shelter. "It can't be that we take care of them during the daylight hours and then abandon them at nights," he said.
Earlier this week, Joy Crooks, the nurse administrator at CUMI, said it was no longer feasible for her organisation to operate the facility based on financial and other constraints. She suggested that the Parish Council should take over the project, which cost just under $100,000 per month to operate. However, in stating the Council's willingness to take up the slot from CUMI, Mayor Solomon said the Council had no intention of leaving the street people to the mercy of the world.
He was one of the city officials who was severely criticised in the aftermath of the "Street people scandal" of 1999, in which 42 street persons were kidnapped from the streets of Montego Bay and dumped near a mud lake in St. Elizabeth.
"We were the ones who provided the lands for the shelter, in the first place, and we are committed to taking care of these people, especially the abandoned children among them," said Mayor Solomon. This is something I am committed to and I hoping that my predecessor will continue the process," said the mayor, who will be stepping away from Local Government politics at the end of his current term.
However, despite committing the Council to take on the responsibility of the shelter should CUMI decide against spearheading its operations, Mayor Solomon thinks that government needs to establish a clear policy on the care of street people. He said this is especially important given recent proposals to close down the Bellevue Hospital, in Kingston, which serves as a treatment centre for the mentally ill.
"I believe that if Bellevue is closed, chances are that we could be seeing a greater influx of mentally ill persons drifting into Montego Bay," said Mayor Solomon. "The city cannot be expected to take care of these people on its own. What is needed is a clear cut government policy to address this matter once and for all," he said.