Homeless in a storm
Accustomed to banding together on the streets to survive hurricanes, several people shunned shelters as minor disturbance threatened island
Paulette Wheatley sat on the cold concrete under the cantilever at the Supreme Court building in downtown Kingston with a gloomy face on Friday, glancing side to side as she sought shelter from the pouring rain.
The 70-year-old was not alone. Several other homeless persons sat there, seemingly helpless, but determined to take their chances on the streets than seek comfort in a shelter as the country was being battered by heavy rains associated with an area of disturbance.
“If I see a better way, I will move on, but if I don’t, I have to stay here. I don’t like to stay at the shelters because I don’t like crowd. I prefer to stay on the road. I move around and who help, help,” Wheatley told The Sunday Gleaner.
She said several homeless persons who prefer the streets than a shelter usually band together to brave natural disasters.
At the time she spoke with The Sunday Gleaner on Friday, Jamaica was still under a tropical storm watch as the potential tropical cyclone drew close, making its approach from the southwestern tip of the island.
By 2 p.m., however, the Meteorological Service of Jamaica had discontinued the watch, but a flash flood warning, which was issued on Thursday, remained in effect.
And there was more rain to come. Much. More. Rain.
“I fell on hard times,” Wheatley uttered, sharing her story with The Sunday Gleaner. “I used to do domestic work and was a joint tenant, but I am on the street now.”
She said that on difficult days like Friday, she remembers her four children who all died in a September 2007 car crash while heading to Clarendon.
“All my children died while on their way to look for a relative. I don’t have anybody to turn to,” said the woman, who is originally from east Kingston.
Roland Morris, 90, is a former ward of the state and has been living on the streets for some time.
He, too, prefers to brave the elements than venture into any of the state shelters, despite expressing anxiety over the worsening weather conditions.
“I prefer out here. I was at Hanover Street (poor relief centre) and they transfer me, but now I am out here. In there, everybody want to speak at once. There is no order there and I don’t use to those sort of things. Out here, I’m getting on alright,” he said.
Noting that he was grateful that motorists have been careful not to splash the vulnerable, Morris said, “There is a lot of waste water on the road. We should have the sea to collect the waste water.”
For Donovan Waynes, hunger and the volume of water flooding the streets were his biggest concerns.
“Nothing nah run. No food, nothing,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.
According to Waynes, he has been living on the street for most his life, having lost his parents at a tender age.
CAUGHT OFF GUARD
The homeless persons shared that the current weather conditions and its impact caught them off guard.
“We never really know. It surprised us, we didn’t know,” said Delroy Augustus Williams.
Nevertheless, Patsy Williams said, “I’m not afraid of the rain more than so. I just beg something and who can help, help.”
Sharing that she has been on the streets since her mentally challenged daughter set their Maxfield Avenue home ablaze, Williams said she also solicits help for other homeless people who are shy.
Another homeless person who shun the shelters was 65-year-old Tanny Johnson.
“See me and come live wid me,” were his words to The Sunday Gleaner, drawing on a popular expression as he shared his experience in state shelters during stormy times.
“Everything nice when we just reach, and when people see that, they believe is all the time, but after that (first time), it just done. They talk down to us. I have to big up people like Aunty Donna and others who always think about us and offer help in these times,” Johnson said, referencing a social media personality.
He told The Sunday Gleaner that he ended up living on the streets because he was rejected by his parents.
Other homeless individuals, however, made use of the shelters.
SEVERAL INITIATIVES FOR THE HOMELESS
With more than 2,000 Jamaicans living on the streets, the Government has implemented a number of initiatives to offer support and care.
Among the initiatives are shelters, drop-in centres, night shelters, transitional facilities, expansion of several shelters, rental assistance, feeding programmes, and housing and training. There has also be an increase in police patrol on the streets, following several reports of violent attacks and killings of the homeless.
During threats of natural disasters, the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, in collaboration with parish municipalities and the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management, activate evacuation and shelter protocols.
Last year, the Government opened the $140-million Desmond McKenzie Transitional Centre for the Homeless. Located at 163-167 King Street in downtown Kingston, the 24-hour state-of-the-art centre is the country’s first adult transitional facility for persons living on the streets.
Named after the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, the centre has the capacity to house 40 persons, both as a shelter and rehabilitative service point.
The Government said the facility is intended to aid in the holistic renewal of the lives of clients, who will benefit from protection and specialised care.