Portland anguish - Sandy victims desperate for shelter as Christmas approaches
Anastasia Cunningham, News Coordinator
The only thing nine-year-old Devonte Blake wants for Christmas is somewhere to live for himself and his family and a "TV to watch cartoons".
But his mother, 46-year-old Sheryl Hall, is quite distressed that she may not be able to give her six children even that.
With her home at Sandshore in Manchioneal, Portland, extensively damaged by Hurricane Sandy four weeks ago, Hall and her two younger children are still taking refuge in a shelter by the Manchioneal Community Centre.
"I don't know what I'm going to do. I don't have anywhere to go," she said.
Her anguish is even greater because she has until Saturday to move out of the shelter.
Hall is one of three families still in the shelter after the category-one hurricane wreaked havoc on the seaside community. A fourth family was in the process of moving out yesterday.
The single mother said she was promised one of the Food For The Poor houses, but was yet to hear word on it.
Somewhere to live
"Everybody me talk to can't tell me anything. It a get to me nerves now. Me pickney them deh all over the place and right here is very uncomfortable. Me just need somewhere to live. Me need to have me family together for Christmas," she shared with The Gleaner.
Thirty-eight-year-old Karen White was reduced to tears when she surveyed her hopeless state. With her roof extensively damaged, she was given a $30,000 voucher but said, "I don't know what to do with it".
"I have until Saturday to move out of the shelter. The house I live in is rent house and the landlord give me until Saturday to move 'cause him want to fix up him place, me little bar up the road mash up. Right now I don't know what move to mek. Me need somewhere for me and me children," White stated, tears streaming down her face.
Forty-seven-year-old Nadine Stewart declared: "It come een like Christmas going to ketch we living nowhere. When yuh poor is a crime, believe you me."
Stewart said her own roof was badly damaged, but she was yet to get a voucher.
The women complained that those who didn't really need the help were getting it, while those who did were being ignored.
Ronald Jackson, director general of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management, said he was aware of the cases of those still in the shelter and noted that the Government was currently looking into each case.
"As far as our records show, three of the four families still in the shelter received their benefits and are seeing to the repairs to their units. One of the four who has qualified for the Food For The Poor house, that matter is being looked at," he said.
Jackson said up to yesterday approximately 11,000 houses were assessed to be damaged in the disaster, of which 489 were totally destroyed, while the others were either severely damaged or had minor damage.
For those who lost their home, the Government would be working with Food For The Poor to construct new homes for them. But Jackson said they were having issues with some of these cases because several persons did not have tenure for the property, which posed a challenge.
Vouchers valued at $60,000 would be provided to persons whose houses were extensively damaged, while vouchers valued at $30,000 would be provided to persons whose houses were not as badly damaged.
"For those to be assisted, there was an assessment done with qualifying criteria, which was vetted by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security," said Jackson.
For total damage, he noted, that was being dealt with by the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing in collaboration with Food For The Poor.
"There is a very open, transparent process where you are registered, your case is verified and based on that the necessaries in terms of benefits are administered," he said.
Jackson emphasised that it needs to be clear that the vouchers were for government assistance only, and that individuals needed to be aware that they had a personal responsibility in their own rebuilding.
Those in the shelter weren't the only ones upset about the relief effort.
Fifty-two-year-old Steve Bryan said no one has given him a definite answer as to why he was not on the list to get a voucher to replace his roof.
"Right now you can see say is put me put two piece a zinc over that little part of the house there so me have somewhere fi sleep," he indicated inside his two-bedroom home in Sandshore.
Neighbour 68-year-old Elaine Burnett said she was also puzzled as to why she was being ignored, after losing a section of her roof in the hurricane.
"Mi bawl, mi cry and mi tired fi sweep out water," said Burnett.
Jackson said people needed to understand that relief would only be given to those who were deemed to be in need.
"It does not mean because you lose you roof, the State is going to give you money to repair it. There are qualifying criteria, depending on your income. It is not automatic," Jackson stated.