Help the homeless with low-cost housing, social workers appeal

Monday Exchange

BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT
Observer staff reporter
hibbertk@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, December 12, 2017



A panel of social workers yesterday made an appeal for subsidised housing for homeless people who have been retrained and reintegrated into society.

The panellists made the appeal at this week's Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange as they spoke of the challenges they face assisting the homeless, listing affordability of housing as one critical element.

Yvonne Grant from the Open Arms Drop-In Centre shared that often the issue with the large number of homeless people on Jamaica's streets is their inability to afford the cost of renting even a one-bedroom dwelling.

“Many have lost jobs, fallen ill and can't pay their rent or go in the hospital, and the hospital social worker calls us and we take in people. We have to decide who we can take and very often we have to turn back people. People need somewhere to live, they are sleeping on the road — and it's not because they want to, but there is nowhere to live,” she said.

“Some have low-income jobs and can't afford to take out $20,000 to pay rent, then bills, and also feed themselves. People who are homeless, and the need for employment, are met at our doors everyday, so we want the authorities to get the idea of the level of homelessness,” Grant added.

Grant and some of the other panellists, like Vermont Murray from The Good Samaritan Inn, run by the East Jamaica Conference of Seventh-day Adventists; and Sheryl Muir of the Association of Business Persons, called for a facility that would offer low rental for the homeless and more overnight shelters to provide a safe place for them to rest at nights.

“We are a non-profit, so we don't have the money to go straight away and buy land or a house to help these people. If organisations like the Housing Agency [of Jamaica] and [National] Housing Trust can rent at low costs we will have a lot fewer people on the streets. If we had a lot more night shelters so persons can go in and have somewhere to put their heads at night, then we would solve a lot of problems,” Grant said.

This issue, according to Grant, has resulted in people being turned back from some of the facilities as there is no space to house them.

“It pains my heart; at Open Arms everyday we have to send people back on the street. We have regulars but we have to send back on a regular basis too. If I could move 20 persons out, I could take in 20. When we have elderly persons, whom we have rehabilitated to their maximum potential and need to be in another environment, they can't move as there is nowhere to go. We need lower rent, long-term residence and places people can move into to provide them with some bit of independence,” argued Grant, whose facility has approximately 80 people in residence and sees a daily drop-in number of 15 to 20 individuals.

Another problem, according to Grant, is that some of these people have no skills training, which is why her facility emphasises that and offers it as part of the reintegration process.

But, apart from possessing a skill, another challenge is that some homeless people lack basic job etiquette as they have never had any structured programmes in their lives.

“Some will get the job and can't keep it because they don't understand the need for punctuality — they need other training to help them. We have different levels of integration: battered, which is the first level, and they are placed in a dormitory; gradually improved, which is the second level, where they are introduced to skills training; and the third level, which is where they are working, reintegrated, and about to move on in society.

“We have skills training on-site, people who have passed through university. We offer barber training and currently have classes for electrical installation sponsored by the British High Commission. But with the drop-in centres we would get a lot of persons off the streets,” Grant pointed out.

Murray, who agreed with Grant, further made an impassioned plea for the authorities to take a drive throughout different areas in the wee hours of the morning to witness the large number of homeless people seeking somewhere to rest.

“Take a drive through New Kingston, the shopping malls, plazas such as Silver Slipper [Cross Roads], Constant Spring Road, Half-Way-Tree Courthouse, the fire station, Carib building, National Heroes' Circle all the way down to the waterfront. Those areas are filled with homeless people and they will tell you they are afraid, as men with big stones will drop it in their heads,” he said.

Murray said each day his facility will see up to 200 people coming to be fed, 35 coming to launder their clothes and 50 people coming to have a bath.

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