Carl Gilchrist, Gleaner Writer
OCHO RIOS, St Ann:
MAYOR OF St Ann's Bay Desmond Gilmore's vision to remove the street people from Ocho Rios and other areas of St Ann is moving closer to reality.
A new organisation called Friends of Ocho Rios has been formed with the initial objective being to ensure that the mentally challenged, the homeless, and drug addicts who roam the streets of the resort town are removed from the streets and placed in suitable accommodation.
The group is to use the annual Curry Festival, slated for October 20, as the first fundraiser, with funds from the event earmarked to repair the abandoned Windsor Girls' Home in St Ann's Bay, which Gilmore had identified as a suitable location.
All proceeds from the event will be turned over to the St Ann Parish Council to proceed with repairs to the former girls' home and if necessary, the St Ann Infirmary, said Friends of Ocho Rios.
"It is a huge problem in Ocho Rios, one that nobody wants to talk about," one of the founders of Friends of Ocho Rios, Sandra Grey-Hamilton, said in a release.
"We have unofficially over 150 persons living on the streets: the mentally challenged, the homeless, and also the drug addicts. The real problem lies with the persons of unsound mind who have been making it a habit of attacking unsuspecting residents. Just the other day, a man was attacked with a stone while carrying out work on the street of the resort town."
Grey-Hamilton said the idea to use the Curry Festival, now in its fourth year, follows a growing trend where charitable events are staged to benefit national institutions.
"We have no problem in saying we have been encouraged by what Shaggy and Friends have done for the Bustamante Children Hospital, and what Rainforest has done for the Cornwall Regional Hospital," she said.
"Hopefully, we can do the same thing here in Ocho Rios where we can provide meaningful humanitarian help for a group of people who have been basically ostracised and marginalised."
Another Friends member, Lavern Palmer, said aside from the humanitarian aspect, with Ocho Rios being such an important part of the tourism product, it was reason enough for the street people problem to be addressed.
Palmer said Friends of Ocho Rios is made up of persons who are "tired of sitting around and waiting for Government to do everything".
The Jamaica Curry Festival is set for October 20 at Turtle River Park, Ocho Rios.