Holy crap! - Kingston Parish Church battles rogue street vendors who also use premises to relieve themselves
Administrators at Kingston Parish Church spent much of last week dreading an influx of illegal street vendors who, at this time each year, descend on the premises like a plague, making life hellish for church members.
The year-round problem of vendors using the walls to showcase their wares and the churchyard as a public toilet intensifies during high-commerce times such as the back-to-school period, the Christmas season and the Independence weekend, explained the Reverend Father Louis Hurst, who last week said the issue is causing some members much discomfort.
“Some of the vendors do not wish to use the bathrooms in the park, so they come inside of the churchyard and do their bodily functions in the churchyard, which puts pressure on our staff which has to clean it up,” said Hurst, adding that at times shoppers and vendors also use the churchyard to their park vehicles, leaving no space for legitimate church visitors.
Last Wednesday, only three of nine vehicles parked inside the churchyard belonged to church members. Neither Hurst nor his administrators knew who owned the other vehicles, including a registered taxi.
“When we leave the bathrooms open, they come into the bathroom and some of them put pressure on the staff to maintain it – not to mention our water bill and so forth,” continued Hurst, adding that the church, which is located in the heart of the commercial capital at South Parade in downtown Kingston, finds itself in a sticky situation.
“If we close [the bathrooms] because we can’t afford the wear and tear on it and the pipes being left open and so forth, then you run the risk of them going back to using the churchyard. So how do you respond to them?” he asked.
Hurst said his intention is not to cut off public access to the facility but to strike an amicable balance, adding also that he has to solicit the services of the Kingston and St Andrew Parish Municipal Corporation (KSAMC) to maintain order at the church. Its west gate on King Street is permanently closed because of the issues.
“We are quite happy with people coming inside the church, but it becomes a matter of how we control them,” he stressed.
... Cat-and-mouse game
Last Tuesday, one municipal police officer told The Gleaner that it was a game of cat and mouse between her team and the vendors, especially those who take to the streets to capitalise on seasonal sales.
Vendors selling books, uniforms and other back-to-school stationery and supplies openly displayed their goods last week seeking to attract passers-by.
“All I can do is go out there and ensure that they don’t block the gate. In the morning, like how we here, they won’t put out, but as soon as we leave or gone to lunch, them come out,” she said, keeping a watchful eye on the vendors outside as Hurst presided over a funeral inside.
“First time, we used to take away their goods, but we not really doing that again. When we take away their goods, we really can’t help it because some people will put out right out to the road,” the officer said.
Head of the Jamaica Vendors, Higglers and Markets Association, Dunstan Whittingham, last week said legitimate vendors are being made to suffer by unregistered seasonal vendors who have no regard for rules.
“Those vendors in the markets, arcades, designated areas, they are registered, but what we have are some seasonal vendors who phase in at this time, back-to-school, with the residential vendors … . That influx of people is what is causing the problems,” explained Whittingham, who said that there are roughly 15,000 vendors in downtown Kingston on weekends.
“This means that motorists and pedestrians will need more space. The demand for space is more than the supply,” said Whittingham.
He also admitted that some registered vendors sell in no-vending zones.
According to Jamaica’s Hawkers and Pedlars Act, no vendor is to sell goods without the appropriate licences and registration.
“It shall not be lawful for any hawker, pedlar or other person to go from place to place or from house to house to sell any goods … unless such hawker, pedlar or other person shall have a licence,” the law states.
The KSAMC has failed to state how many vendors in the capital city were registered or had applied for licences in the last three years, weeks after being asked by The Gleaner.
“Most are itinerant, unregistered traders,” offered Town Clerk Robert Hill last week.