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‘Taking care of invisibles’ - Jamaican MBE awardee says she was called to care for homeless

Published:Monday | December 30, 2019 | 12:41 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer
Yvonne Grant, co-founder and administrator of the Open Arms Development Centre.
Yvonne Grant, co-founder and administrator of the Open Arms Development Centre.

Imagine the utter delight that comes from receiving a communiqué from Buckingham Palace informing you of the Queen’s intention to award you anything, much less induction as a Member of the Order of the British Empire.

Retired nurse Yvonne Grant, co-founder and administrator of the Open Arms Development Centre on Windward Road, east Kingston, said she was speechless when she was told of the award.

But once the reality of the news sank in, the long-serving social worker felt a deep sense of satisfaction that her good works were having a big and lasting impact.

“I felt so overjoyed and happy to know that years and years of dedication have been recognised by no less a person than Queen Elizabeth II herself,” said Grant, who began helping the homeless while she lived in England, where was trained as a nurse.

A British citizen, Grant, who left Jamaica to live in the United Kingdom in 1962, is a specialist practitioner in community mental health.

She said that “taking care of the homeless was not by choice” but was a calling that was laid on her heart by God.

While in England, Grant served as president of a Seventh–day Adventist organisation that had responsibility for community services involving the care of 18 small groups across the south end of Essex and East London.


That passion and dedication never abandoned her, and when she returned to Jamaica in 1997, it was only natural that she got involved with feeding, housing and caring for Kingston’s homeless population.

Assimilating into the Jamaican culture was a priority for her upon her return, having left nearly 50 years earlier. Grant worked at Bellevue Hospital, the only mental-health public hospital in the island, where she gathered valuable experience.

“I saw people on the streets and I realised I could make a contribution, and I began working with Dr Maurine Irons-Morgan, who was senior medical officer at the time at Bellevue,” Grant recalled of the consultant psychiatrist.

“Taking care of the invisible population is a gift and a pleasure, and I do so with all my heart and soul,” she added.

Grant said that she is eager to travel to London at a date to be decided in the new year to accept the award from the Queen.

Open Arms is a non-governmental organisation that receives subventions from the Government to offset its monthly operational expenses.

The centre needs approximately $25 million per year to function. It provides meals daily to resident ‘participants’ – 85 men and 10 women – as well as drop-ins.

“The bulk of funding comes from donations,” she told The Gleaner. “Companies and organisations like Cari-Med Limited. Ashley Furnishing has recently come on board, but a great part of our funding is from the Lay Magistrates Association and service clubs, and some private citizens, which continue to motivate the staff and myself as we work to create a better Jamaica,” said Grant.