JIS News

It is with much pleasure that I pass on the greetings and best wishes of the Most Hon. Prime Minister who unfortunately could not be here with you today.
I can assure you that her absence, in no way, diminishes the importance the Prime Minister attaches to your invitation, or indeed the significance of the purpose for which we are here gathered.
I can tell you the Most Honourable Prime Minister really wanted to share in this function.
As you all know, it was while the Most Honourable Prime Minister was serving as Local Government Minister that she gave impetus to the setting-up of this Committee for the Homeless, which along with the Board of Supervision, are key players behind the setting- up of this Drop-in Centre for the Homeless, which is being officially opened today.
I must also express my profound thanks to the CHASE Fund for coming forward with the financial support necessary in turning the vision into reality.
The problem of homelessness is an aspect of our changing society.
It has always been with us, but as the society undergoes change, and especially over the last few decades, so too has the nature and scope of the problem.
It is perhaps safe to say that possibly the real cry of attention to the problem of the homeless came in 1999.
We all recall the 21 homeless persons who were forcefully removed from the streets of Montego Bay, transported and dumped in St. Elizabeth. It was a dark day in our history!
What that unfortunate incident brought to the fore, however, is not the problem of homelessness itself. More importantly, was the need for attitudinal change in how we deal with the problem.
For let us be frank, all societies contend with this problem. The difference lies in how we respond. And, if the truth be told, our common bond as a people, must be to put an end to homelessness.
There is still no definitive data of the number of homeless persons in Jamaica, although crude estimates vary from a low of 800 to a high of 1500. This figure might surprise you as somewhat low, given the numbers of persons we see roaming our streets.
The fact is, however, that homelessness in Jamaica is for the most part confined to our urban areas and major town centres. It is not as widespread as one is tempted to assume.
Whatever the numbers, however, our concern stems from the fact that if there is one homeless persons who must go hungry and sleep rough on cold ground, then it is one person too many. And that is what makes this an unacceptable situation.
The opening of this Drop-In Centre for the Homeless could not have been better timed.
This month, November is being observed as Local Government and the work of the Committee for the Homeless and the Board of Supervision is an integral part of that function of that Ministry.
It is also noteworthy that in the United States, Homelessness Awareness Week is being observed November 12-18.
The plight of those without a home is a lonely and difficult one demanding greater solidarity and understanding on the part of all of us.
And so, I must commend all the parties that have worked to bring this initiative to a stage where today we can be officially launching this facility.
Your efforts and hard work have certainly paid off and the homeless people in the general Downtown Kingston area who will benefit from the facility can now look forward to the care and attention which they rightfully deserve.
I don’t know how many of us could survive ‘a night without a home’ much less having this as an almost permanent condition of our life.
But, why, one might ask do people become homeless? Why are the numbers growing and what can be done to address this problem?
The truth is, any number of factors can be mentioned. These range from mental illness or physical illness to heavy drinking, drug use, difficult family life, break-up in relationships and the breakdown in family life, among others. The list is by no mean exhausted.
And in much the same way the causes are numerous and varied, so too must be our response to addressing the problem.
Not every homeless person is a rogue or deserving of being condemned to the scrapheap of the society, or indeed, left to fend for themselves.
With support and care, many homeless persons are capable of achieving a measure of independence and living what could be considered normal lives. But they cannot do that if ignored and treated as social outcasts.
It is out of this recognition that the Board of Supervision for the Relief of the Poor in Jamaica has developed a 5-year Strategic Plan to address the problem of homeless in Jamaica.
Under the plan, each parish, at the level of the Parish Councils, will be able to modify and adopt the overall broad strategic direction, into its own operational plan, taking into account its own resources and the extent of the problem.
Of course, not every parish will need a Drop in Centre for the Homeless and the initiatives implemented in one parish to deal with the problem might not apply in another.
What we are committed to, at the end of the day, is to create greater awareness, bring about attitudinal change and putting in place facilities which can help the homeless in effecting a change to their condition and way of life.
I believe Madam Chair, it is possible to bring an end to the state of chronic homelessness in Jamaica. It is possible for us to bring an end to this problem.
Indeed, the persons who are homeless are the children and relatives of persons who live in homes. They are the sons and daughters of others in the society, most of whom are in a position to show greater care and demonstrate a heightened sense of responsibility.
If we are seriously going to tackle this problem, then that sense of responsibility which is in each of us, must be exercised. We cannot walk away from our relatives, from our family and leave them to the elements and vagaries of the street.
No amount of government intervention. No amount of additional ‘drop-in centres. No amount of CHASE funding. No amount of assistance from service clubs, can, in and of itself, satisfactorily address this problem.
Important and necessary though all these efforts are, the missing link in the chain is the involvement of families, and especially those, who choose to treat their relatives challenged with mental illness, drug abuse and homelessness as though they are less than human beings.
Homelessness is not a permanent state of living. It can change.
What is needed is a combined force of parental, family and societal responsibility, all coming together, to tackle the problem.
This Drop-In Centre for the Homeless, being launched today will ensure, the homeless who come to use it, will have a meal, access to an adequate level of care, counseling services and more.
It is not a residential centre and to that extent it is a useful first attempt, from which we can build. It will not remove the homeless from our streets, overnight, but it will give those who use it, an opportunity to eventually remove themselves from that status.
It will definitely serve to restore some dignity and pride to the lives of those who use it. After all, the homeless are people too.
Anyone could become homeless. Any number of causes could give rise to us being in that position – from natural or man-made disasters, disease, including HIV/AIDS, mental illness or even persons who are deportees.
We have a responsibility to ensure that those so affected are given even opportunity and assistance to live a healthy and decent life. Homelessness ought not to be a permanent state, and therein lies the power of life and the possibilities which a facility such as this presents.
And, so I welcome this initiative. May it fully and satisfactorily serve the purpose for which it was set up and I look forward to it receiving much support from the surrounding community, the church, services clubs and the private sector in its continued success.
God bless you, and I thank you