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Kingston’s homeless want jobs for Christmas

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Seventy-two-year-old Joseph Wright has been homeless for 20 years.

At nights, he sleeps at the 100-bed shelter on Church Street in downtown Kingston, where he acts as a watchman over his adopted family.

“I used to work as a watchman before I became homeless, so it come natural to me,” said the sprightly, elderly man who offered to list Christmas wishes on behalf of individuals at the Government-run shelter when the Jamaica Observer visited on Tuesday.

The additional shelter was provided for homeless people in the Corporate Area in light of the nightly islandwide curfews implemented as part of measures by the Government to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Poor Relief [Department’s shelter] is a blessing for poor people. We get a place to rest. It’s 100 times better than the streets. Everybody here try fi help each other. Wi fight sometimes, but nothing too serious. We argue and it done,” he added.

With their clothes and other belongings stuffed into plastic bags, homeless men and women lined the walls outside the shelter, having nowhere else to go and nothing else to do. Several others had gone to roam the streets, Wright explained.

“Them let us in at 6 o’clock to have a shower and we get a bed to sleep on. But when we wake 6 o’clock the next morning, we have go back on the streets.

“It better than nothing because we get breakfast and lunch during the day, and we also get a change a clothes. Is a good ting di Government a do here fi poor people,” said Wright.

He added, however, that there are several employable individuals at the shelter who want to help themselves. In spite of his age, Wright said he, too, was seeking employment.

“I’m 72 but I’m not sick. I would like a work, so I can pay my own rent. I still have strength and I still have a lot in me.

“Able-body people deh here, too, who want work. Most a wi still have health and strength,” he said.

Wright told the Observer that he became homeless at age 59 after serving a prison sentence for manslaughter. After his release, Wright said he could not find work and his family had long turned their backs on him.

The elderly man said, before settling at the Church Street location under a month ago, he had lived in an abandoned building and at two other shelters.

“Three-quarter of the people that come to the shelter don’t have no discipline, so sometimes dem affi get put out. But anyone is allowed to stay here if they don’t have anywhere else to go,” Wright said, stressing, too, that shelter administrators were enforcing COVID-19 health and safety measures.

“Every evening when we come in the shelter dem check wi temperature. So far since I come here, they don’t find anyone with COVID,” he said.

But short of jobs for the able-bodied, Wright said that a television set would help to keep individuals at the shelter abreast of daily happenings.

“We would like it if persons could do something nice for us here at the shelter, if is even a little treat for the Christmas. If we could get a TV fi keep wi up to date on what is going on in the country, that woulda nice.

“But mostly, we would like able-body people to get work,” he said, motioning at a throng of individuals standing and sitting around him on the sidewalk.

Shernette Barnes, a 31-year-old woman who claimed she escaped an abusive home, said she wants to go back to school to study marketing.

“This is my first Christmas at a shelter. I’ve been here since September. I came here from an abusive situation,” the young woman explained.

Barnes said she had previously worked at a supermarket. Since allegedly being forced out of the house she occupied, Barnes, who has seven Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate subjects, has been looking for work.

“I was looking for a job at one of the call centres but nothing came through. What I really want though is to go back to school to do a course in marketing,” she said, adding that being at the shelter has taken a toll on her mentally.

“It is rough being here, because I’m never alone. I don’t get to meditate and think on what to do next.

“But I try to help myself. I listen to the radio and on Sundays I listen to the church programmes to get my mind off the situation,” she told the Observer.

Richard Bowley, a bearer who became unemployed when his motorcycle was stolen in 2015, said he has been staying at shelters since then.

“The relationship with my mother and other family members got estranged, so I didn’t have anywhere else to go,” said Bowley.

“But I’ve been getting help from Poor Relief [Department] since 2015 when somebody stole my bike, because I used to do bearer work. That’s how I became unemployed and had to leave from where I was living,” he added.

He said his responsibility at the shelter is to “look out” for the disabled individuals.

“I help them to move around,” Bowley said. “But other than that, you have a lot of people who come here who don’t have nothing wrong with them physically. Them just need some help. I’m just here trying to redeem myself.”

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