Several of St Catherine’s homeless are crying out for food. A number of them told The Sunday Gleaner that their greatest concern when they wake up from wherever they rested for the night is finding something to eat.
Although there is no official determination as to the size of the homeless population in the parish, there is a belief that the number could be more than 200. This is largely based on the 200 homeless persons who were picked up by the St Catherine Poor Relief Department during World Homeless Day last year, and taken to the infirmary in Spanish Town where they were fed, groomed and have their blood pressure and sugar levels checked.
However, the visible resettlement of several homeless persons in main townships across the parish could have possibly increased that number.
Even though the St Catherine Municipal Corporation has taken steps to provide shelter in some cases, there has not been a consistent programme to provide food for these unfortunate persons.
Although the Government has embarked on special feeding programmes to benefit the homeless in the Corporate Area, by allocating $150 million from the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service, as well as a percentage from the Local Government and Community Development budget, the homeless in St Catherine are left to the mercy of regular citizens and some organisations to provide food for them.
Thirty-seven-year-old Andrae Grant and 25-year-old Sanine Beale, who were not among the 200 pampered last year by the Poor Relief Department, have found their way to Linstead and, along with others, are now holed up in makeshift tents on the Municipal Corporation’s Town Centre compound where they are exposed each passing seconds to the elements.
But while the fear of contracting COVID-19 looms high for them, their greatest concern now that they have found somewhere to call home – at least temporarily – is finding food on a daily basis, especially during this Yuletide season.
“It’s hard, many days I go hungry if some good person or the Linstead CDC (Community Development Committee) don’t give me some food,” Grant told The Sunday Gleaner. “I don’t know how we are going to manage during this period when everybody is home, but I still give thanks that I have this shelter and a cot to sleep on.”
Grant, who was born in Central Village in the community formerly known as Sufferers Heights, related a history of abuse by one of his parents, and the volatile nature of the area when he was growing up that dragged him into violent situations in which he was required to defend his turf from intruders – a background that eventually led to his present condition.
“I started out well, attending the White Marl All-Age School where I passed the Technical Entrance Examination and was admitted to Dinthill Technical High School,” disclosed Grant.
“Two things happened that changed the course of everything for me – my father left my mother and she find a new man who became the father of my sister; and the Sufferers Heights community I knew as a small child started to change.”
According to Grant, his mother started to show more preference to his sister and became very abusive to him, because she was getting the love and support from his sister’s father, something that was not shown to her by his father. This also, he said, was coupled with outsiders moving into Sufferers Heights and started to terrorise the area.
“Those of us who were living there before were drafted by some community elders to be defenders of the community, which I had no problem with, being that I was expelled from Dinthill at the time, due to behavioural issues,” he shared.
The homeless man said that during his time as a community defender, he still saw the need to learn, so he registered with the HEART Trust and completed levels one and two plumbing before he dropped out because of a lack of funding to complete level three.
“It was this lifestyle that led to my homelessness. Last December I was shot six times in an incident by persons I knew, and was in the Spanish Town Hospital for two months,” declared Grant, adding that he had to do several surgeries since, including a recent one where the doctor had to amputate the toes on his right foot.
“I didn’t have anywhere to live when I left the hospital so I ended up in Linstead, where I got shelter here at the town centre and a little food sometimes from the CDC,” he said.
In addition to his injuries from the shooting incident, his left arm is disfigured as a result of a hit-and-run accident he claimed he was involved in when he was 16 years old. He said he was told by doctors that some corrective measures can be taken, but he doesn’t have the money to buy the pins that are needed.
‘SOMETHING TO EAT’
Sanine Beale, who found her way to Linstead just over a month ago, said she has been homeless for a while now, and while she gives thanks for the shelter she now has at the town centre, getting food is her main issue at the moment.
“I wish mi coulda get something to eat for the holiday, but mi nuh know who a guh help,” said the 25-year-old.
“Mi reach Linstead because the woman who give me somewhere to stay in Clarendon lose her house because she couldn’t pay rent.”
According to Beale, who born and grew up in St Mary where she attended the Retreat Primary and Junior High School, it has been a rough ride since the death of her father, with whom she was living, when she was just nine years old.
“Mi live with mi father fren after him dead, and then with mi sister but mi couldn’t tek her treatment so mi left and go live with mi cousin in Lime Hall, St Ann, and then mi haffi leave because of her man,” she disclosed.
Beale said she went to Ocho Rios and was on the streets for a while before she met this woman from Clarendon who took her in, but it didn’t last long before the woman was having problems paying the rent, so she boarded a taxi to Spanish Town and eventually she found her way to Linstead.
“I wish I could get a house fi live in and food to eat, because it hard out here. If people don’t stretch dem hand, mi don’t have nothing to eat, apart from the dinner mi get from the CDC on Mondays,” she said.
Early last year, the St Catherine Municipal Corporation moved to house some 40 homeless folks who were at the Spanish Town Hospital by partnering with the ministries of health and local government to erect a shelter at the infirmary – a move chairman of the corporation, Norman Scott, said was necessary to give them a permanent home where they could receive proper nutrition and have their health needs met.