Maureen’s Place, a 28-bed facility accommodating deportees and ex-offenders under the Jamaica Reducing Re-Offending Action Plan (JRRAP), was opened on Wednesday (February 23).
A collaborative effort between the Jamaican and British Governments, the facility, inside the Open Arms Drop-In Centre on the Bellevue Hospital premises in Kingston, will provide food and shelter on a medium term basis for deported persons and ex-offenders in need of short to medium term accommodation.
It will also offer treatment for mental illnesses, through the broader therapeutic services offered at the Open Arms Drop-In Centre, a daytime facility that caters to homeless men and women.
Maureen’s Place was the brainchild of Director of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Maureen Irons Morgan, after whom the facility is named.
Speaking at the ribbon cutting ceremony, Dr. Irons Morgan said that she one day realised that an empty block could be transformed into single room occupancy units, and that it would be good for transitional housing for persons preparing for independent living in their communities.
She said the establishment of the facility was vital, as homelessness is a major problem, particularly in Kingston and St. Andrew which accounts for more than half of Jamaica’s homeless.
She said it was recognised that involuntarily returning and local ex-offenders were at increased risk for homelessness.
“When you add to that the mental health and substance abuse problems, the risk increases,” she said. She also noted that the solution to the problem is multifaceted and ideally involves participation and support from Government and non-Government organisations, private individuals, faith-based organisations and international partners.
She thanked the British government and the Ministry of National Security for creating the landmark JRRAP programme, which since its inception, has given invaluable assistance to the development of mechanisms to help persons to be equipped with the necessary skills and tools to live productive lives.
Funded by the British Government, JRRAP assists in reintegrating deportees and local ex-offenders. One of the aims of JRRAP is to build capacity in certain local non-governmental organisations, to provide better services for deportees and local ex-offenders, in the areas of short-term accommodation, counselling, drug rehabilitation and mental health. JRRAP also supports rehabilitation of local offenders under the Department of Correctional Services.
Policy Manager, Social Intervention Co-ordinator and Public Order, Ministry of National Security, Sherrian Gray, said that the building serves as a testimony to the partnership between the Ministry of National Security and the British High Commission and will yield positive results.
She explained that the initiative also involves an income generation component, in the form of a vegetable garden, which has successfully grown produce that has been sold within the community, as well as the Coronation Market.
“This project is expected to provide opportunities for them to learn new skills and gain self respect among other activities (that will contribute) to their reintegration into Jamaican society,” she said.
British High Commissioner to Jamaica, His Excellency Howard Drake, said his Government has increased the amount of overall assistance to Jamaica, in terms of tackling the country’s problems, through its Department of International Development.
He noted that the British Government has been involved with a number of institutions, including the Department of Correctional Services, as well as the Ministry of National Security, in trying to help reduce re-offending, and hope it will contribute to a reduction in crime.
“We have supported Open Arms (Drop-In Centre) to the tune of $11 million, which I think is a fairly tangible indicator of the support and help we want to give to you, as Jamaicans, to tackle these issues of which homelessness is such an important one,” the High Commissioner said.
CONTACT: ALECIA SMITH