Eight ‘Street People’ victims remain in state care
OF THE 15 street victims who were identified by the St James Municipal Council 22 years ago, six have died, while nine remain in the system, says the organisation’s chief executive officer, Gerald Lee.
The 15 were among some 18 victims rounded up, pepper-sprayed, tied up, illegally transported by truck and discarded near a muddy lake of bauxite waste in St Elizabeth in 1999.
The disgraceful ‘Street People’ incident is one the city of Montego Bay has had to live with, and years later the council’s CEO says his organisation has conformed to the directives of the Justice Carl Patterson Commission of Inquiry.
“The commission had recommended that they were to be taken care for the rest of their lives; provided with shelter, a sum of money should be given to them on a monthly basis to take care of their needs, and all of those things we are still doing.”
Eight of the nine survivors are living in state care, on a ward tagged ‘Street Victim’, while one is living with family members.
But, currently, an estimated 450 people are living on the streets of the Second City, a figure Lee could not confirm, owing to the fact that the council’s survey shows a total of 232. Of the latter numbers, food and care is provided for 125, under a special programme being led by the municipality, according to Lee.
Scattered between Greenwood in the north and Great River in the west, both men and women on the city’s streets can be found under bridges, along the seaside, Barnett Street, Westgate towards Irwin, Fustic Road and Railway Gardens near the Barnett Street Police Station, to name a few.
The majority of those who lived in Sam Sharpe Square have literally seen their makeshift homes taken over by vendors.
“Our survey was done based on the people who interact with our care centre,” Lee stated, qualifying his numbers.
A committee recommended by the commission also remains in place and meets bimonthly, but a ‘Homeless People’ Committee being led by Deputy Mayor Richard Vernon was formed over two years ago, said Lee. Revived two weeks ago after an eight-month absence, their role is to monitor, survey, manage and implement methods of reintegrating those who live on the streets with their families.
A number of agencies, plus private-sector organisations, are part of the group, Lee stated, even while admitting the difficulties in attracting mental health nurses, who have been part of the brain drain in the sector.
The absence of sufficient social workers also plagues the massive dent that is needed, which exposes street people to the mercy of miscreants, abusers and attackers who are known to hurt the homeless.
“We have a problem providing social skills, number of staff is limited, but we are working closely with the health department, and we are also actively looking to employ mental health nurses.”
With the shortage of specialised nurses, he said they have been forced to resort to patient care assistants being used, mainly by persons trained by the private institutions and are not at the level.
He said those who are, the remuneration that the council can afford to pay them is sometimes not enough to attract them, and even if they come and start, as soon as they get a better job they are gone.
“The Homeless Committee’s role is also to assist in some of these areas, helping in finding the right people for the job,” said Lee.