The National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) has been working through partnerships with schools, communities, churches and corporate organisations, in an effort to promote healthy lifestyles among children, adolescents and adults.
As part of its mandate, the Council has the responsibility of implementing innovative programmes that promote and enable the prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and resocialisation of individuals affected by drug abuse.
With this in mind, in 2009 the NCDA, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, launched the Tek it to Dem project, which seeks to restore hope to the often 'marginalised' and homeless population in Kingston and St. Andrew, through the administration of care and the use of harm reduction strategies.
Project Manager, Collette Browne, says the project currently employs a holistic approach when dealing with homeless persons as many of these individuals have needs which have to be filled.
Tek it to Dem, she says, is a highly intensive outreach project that is designed to cater to the needs of the homeless persons by providing food, shelter, medical treatment and medication.
Mrs. Browne also notes that the interest lies not only with removing them (homeless persons) from the streets, but also with providing them with the tools they need to rebuild their lives in order to become productive Jamaican citizens.
Speaking with JIS News, Mrs. Browne says that, “we (the NCDA) decided to start a project that targets homeless persons to try and reduce the incidence of HIV among that population and to treat substance users."
She points out that the project idea emerged out of the findings of a HIV training programme undertaken by the staff of NCDA, adding that the results showed that there was a link between substance abuse and HIV.
“What we found in the first year of the project was that the prevalence of HIV among the homeless was the second highest in the island,” she tells JIS News, noting also that homelessness and substance abuse are essentially risk factors for the sexually transmitted disease – HIV.
Currently, there is an estimated 1,000 homeless individuals who reside on the streets of communities across Kingston and St. Andrew. The NCDA has, however, been able to reach about 50 per cent of that population through Tek it to Dem, and has also managed to get a small percentage of that group into homes and shelters that offer rehabilitation and treatment.
Commenting on the success of the programme, Mrs. Browne states that, “we have gotten persons off the streets and reunited with their families; and we’ve gotten persons into shelters and into Missionaries of the Poor, which is one of our partners."
Agencies and organisations that have partnered with the Council include CHARES at the University Hospital of the West Indies that treats HIV positive clients, Drug Serv, Patricia House, the Bellevue Hospital Open Arms Shelter, Marie Atkins Night Shelter, Salvation Army, among other medical facilities and food companies.
The Project Manager notes that presently there are not enough facilities to house most of the persons, especially those affected by substance abuse who are more challenging to offer care.
As a result, Mrs. Browne says the project is currently in its building stage, as it took approximately two years to gain the trust and confidence of the homeless people.
She adds that there are also plans to establish a drop-in centre, in Kingston and St. Andrew, where the homeless will have access to meals, a change of clothing, a bath, shelter and counselling sessions.
Importantly, and as part of its annual activities, the Tek it to Dem team, on March 30, held a health and information fair for homeless persons at the Marie Atkins Night Shelter in downtown, Kingston.
The homeless persons and community members were beneficiaries of the services of the Tax Administration of Jamaica, National Insurance Scheme (NIS) and Registrar General’s Department (RGD), Programme of Advancement through Health and Education (PATH) of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.
Beneficiaries were able to get registered for their Tax Registration Numbers (TRN), birth certificates, NIS numbers and to apply for PATH.
The Jamaica Foundation for Lifelong Learning (JFLL) and the HEART Trust/ NTA were also on hand to assist interested persons with applications for the training programmes offered by those organisations.
Tek it to Dem is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Global Fund for AIDS.
By Toni-Ann Russell, JIS PRO