Gov't says no further extension but residents claim they cannot find anywhere else to live
Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer
Almost one year after the Government granted a stay of eviction to scores of residents squatting on a state-owned property in downtown Kingston none has yet moved.
The one-year stay of eviction expires in May, but the residents say finding alternative accommodation is proving difficult.
But last week, Government officials told The Sunday Gleaner that the residents will not be given anymore time to move from the property which is owned by the National Land Agency (NLA).
According to the sources, who asked not to be named, representatives of the NLA and Ministry of Housing recently visited the property at the corner of Beeston and East streets to find out how many of the residents had so far relocated.
"The response which came back to us was shocking, to say the least," said a senior official in the housing ministry.
"Not a single person had moved. So, now, the matter has been sent to the Ministry of Land to have the NLA proceed with the eviction when the deadline comes," added the source.
The NLA had initially given the residents a 90-day eviction notice which expired last year May.
However, following reports in The Sunday Gleaner and a plea for clemency from the residents, they were given an additional 12 months to leave the premises, which is about 100 metres from the Parliament building.
At that time, more than 70 persons, including 28 children, were living at the property.
Minister of Land Robert Pickersgill and minister without portfolio with responsibility for housing Morais Guy said then that the Government was exploring several options to resolve the plight of the residents.
Pickersgill had declared that it was not the policy of his administration to penalise persons for the circumstances in which they find themselves and announced that a committee was being established to work with the residents and social workers to arrive at a solution.
Efforts to contact Pickersgill were unsuccessful last week.
But when a Sunday Gleaner team visited the premises residents claimed that finding someplace else to live was as difficult as finding a job.
"I went to Harbour View trying to find someplace, but the rent is $9,000. I am only working part-time, plus is three buses I would have to take out of the little money. I couldn't afford what I found. In Portmore rent is $25,000. I can't afford that," said one female resident.
Another resident noted that the assistance from the State has been limited.
"They have been asking if anybody have titles so they may be able to get a house," said the woman who claimed that she had lived in "bush" before squatting on the property and she has no intention of going back to live in the "bush".
Canute 'Preacher' Pinnock, who was the original caretaker for the property, said a housing ministry representative who visited them in December urged them to seek the assistance of their member of parliament, Desmond McKenzie.
"We went to the MP office last week to try and get some assistance. He was not there and we did not get any assurance that he would help," said Pinnock.
"But from everybody came here last year when The Gleaner wrote the story, not a single MP or any other political person, has come back," charged Pinnock.
Other residents were extremely critical of McKenzie for failing to provide assistance to them.
Meanwhile, they had words for McKenzie.
"You publish your story tomorrow (Sunday). We will give him till Monday, and if we don't hear from him by then, he will hear from us on Tuesday outa Parliament," said one resident as others agreed.
Efforts to contact McKenzie were unsuccessful last week.