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Woman who spent years on streets from age 15 feeds the homeless

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AT the age of 15, she spent three months on the harsh streets of Kingston after her parents told her she was not welcome in their homes.

Twenty-three years later, though light years removed from the situation that caused her to run the streets — at one point sleeping under the bed of a former female schoolmate in West Kingston to avoid detection by her friend’s father — passing any homeless individual is still gut-wrenching.

She knows only too well what it is to fend off unwanted attention from predatory men in one breath and succumb in another to stave off starvation.

Having been there she knows as well the fact that being homeless does not always mean one is mentally ill. She also knows the cocktail of circumstances that can result in people having no haven but the one under the open skies.

Molested by both male and female family members from infancy to adolescent years and then by the very married taxi driver entrusted with transporting her to school before she became a drop-out, she was puzzled as to why no one linked the changes in her behaviour to the early trauma even after they became aware. Very soon she found herself bouncing between the homes of both parents before eventually being booted by both.

“My mother would send me from St Mary to my father [in St Catherine] for lunch money. One day he told me he had no money so she said if he doesn’t give you any, don’t come back. My stepmother said, ‘Well, you can’t stay here either’. My father was very quiet, he said nothing so at 15 years old I became homeless. I was now sleeping on the streets of Kingston, right on Hagley Park Road to be exact,” she shared in a recent interview on virtual talk show Heart to Heart.

“I had a friend who was homeless, so it was the two of us sleeping on the street. We are 15 years old, nobody showed any interest in why we were on the street. We became hungry. After a while we began to give sexual favours to get something to eat. That was my introduction to prostitution. I didn’t know it was that at that time, I just saw it as me exchanging a part of me to get something to eat, to get somewhere to sleep, to shower, we were on the streets for a few months and it was really hard,” she said.

The kindness of an elderly woman from an inner-city Kingston community, who along with her friend provided a roof over their heads after learning of their plight, would be the saving grace for the teens.

Now, having surmounted her tumultuous past — which even saw her passing through the hands of human traffickers — she has returned to the streets, but for a worthy cause. At least once per month since July this year the homeless on the streets of downtown Kingston can rely on a good, hot meal from her hands, along with items of clothing and other donations for their comfort.

“When I came into Christendom I was trying to find my purpose. It took sometime for me to understand this was the direction God was calling me to serve in, in terms of ministry. After much praying and crying, He gave me the acronym BLUE — Because Love Understands Everything.

“I went back to God trying to figure out what to do with this and He said feeding,” she told the Jamaica Observer in a recent interview.

Prompted to begin this venture on her birthday (July 8th), she has been doing so every month since.

Together with her husband and a small support team, she said 100 people were fed each time.

“My husband, who is a chef, he cooks, we package and we take it into Kingston,” she shared. The meals, she noted, are of a particular quality.

“I got instructions about this; it had to be nutritious, it couldn’t be something you threw together; the drink couldn’t just be the regular syrup,” she said further.

Although her husband has lost his job because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, she cheerfully plods on through the helpfulness of friends and her own resources bolstered by the knowledge that she is carrying out a divine mandate.

“Another thing the Holy Spirit impressed on me was that this is not for social media, not for a show. I take pictures but just for accountability, for example, when persons donate,” she said.

Despite her keeping a low profile, she says help has poured in in uncommon ways, the most recent being a donation of sanitary napkins from a warehouse owner. She said the items, along with underwear and bras, were next on her list, having witnessed the telling “stains” on the person of females experiencing their monthlies but unable to afford protection.

Come December 19 she plans to feed some 300 people and supply them with packages containing personal care items as well.

Already she says one individual has volunteered restaurant space for the day in addition to bags of coal as well as cases of tissue to aid the effort.

Asked whether venturing out, not just on the streets but to the homeless during the heights of the pandemic has left her daunted, she says, “I just do what I have to do, because it wasn’t me who just decided to get up and do this”.

Turning a blind eye to the plight of the less fortunate, even though it means dipping into her own resources, is out of the question she says adding, “I know what that [being homeless] is like”.

According to the Ministry of Local Government, Jamaica’s homeless population numbers over 2,000 — the majority of whom are found in the parishes of Kingston and St Andrew. The Kingston and S Andrew Municipal Corporation, in 2014, introduced a protocol governing the distribution of food to homeless people to bring order to the ad hoc manner in which they were being fed by individuals and groups.

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