Tue | Jun 2, 2020

Homeless get food lifeline

Published:Monday | March 30, 2020 | 12:25 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer
Theo Mullings makes light work of breakfast in front of the Secret Garden monument in downtown Kingston yesterday. Mullings was one of hundreds of homeless persons who were served breakfast during the launch of a special feeding programme in the parking lot of the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation on Church Street in Kingston.
Theo Mullings makes light work of breakfast in front of the Secret Garden monument in downtown Kingston yesterday. Mullings was one of hundreds of homeless persons who were served breakfast during the launch of a special feeding programme in the parking lot of the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation on Church Street in Kingston.

As concerns heighten over the vulnerability of Kingston’s homeless population to the novel coronavirus, Local Government and Community Development Minister Desmond McKenzie said that the Government is in a race against time to retrofit a facility to temporarily house “those who want to come off the streets”.

McKenzie, speaking with The Gleaner at Sunday’s launch of a feeding programme near the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation’s Church Street offices, said that the ministry would be seeking to patch up an old building on the property, where a permanent structure will be constructed in the near future.

“We’re going to use that for the time being – put a little coat of paint on it, wash it out, and clean it up, put some bedding in there, and set up a sort of structure so that we can do some of the feeding there,” he said.

Like it has for much of Jamaican society, COVID-19 has upended life for even the homeless, who lamented in a Gleaner story last week that many good Samaritans who routinely fed them had not turned out over the last two weeks as an economic downturn and social-distancing protocols transformed the once-bustling city into a near ghost town.

There have been 32 COVID-19 cases and one death in Jamaica, but the country is projected to be weeks away from the peak of the virus, which is expected to surge with community transmission.

LOOMING CHALLENGE

The more than 1,000 people who turned out yesterday were offered a short public-education session on SARS-CoV-2, with the minister expressing concern about the looming challenge if the homeless contracted the virus.

“We are doing the temperature checks and giving them hand sanitiser as they come in, and that is what we’re going to be doing right across the country,” he said.

McKenzie foresees that people who are not homeless will turn up for meals but said, “We are not going to be turning away anybody, once the food is available.”

For the next two months, Jamaica’s homeless will be provided with two meals per day to mitigate against the fallout of charities, McKenzie said at a press conference last Friday.

The special feeding programme will complement what is being done in drop-in locations across the island.

“The Corporate Area poses the greatest challenge in all of this because we actually don’t have a facility, outside of Marie Atkins, which is already bursting at the seams, so we will have to find ways in the Corporate Area to feed this large constituent of homeless people,” McKenzie told The Gleaner.

The nationwide homeless population surpasses 2,000.

In Kingston and St Andrew, feeding will be done in Cross Roads, Papine, Half-Way Tree, New Kingston, and the downtown area. They will be fed Sundays through Fridays, and receive care packages on Saturday.

The local government minister added that a roving team would be deployed to serve communities on the outskirts of Kingston.

The programme is being funded by a $150-million allocation – part from central Government and a portion from the ministry’s budget.

Food For The Poor, The Salvation Army, and other stakeholders continue to partner with the Government in this regard.

Mayor of Kingston Delroy Williams was also present and assisted in the distribution of meals.

Williams noted that the homeless are fed through the municipal corporation regularly but said that a “special effort” was being made to ensure that those who were at greatest risk of neglect were attended to amid the COVID-19 crisis.

The municipality has also embarked on a clean-up drive and the sanitisation of high-traffic public spaces and markets.

Post-COVID-19, the mayor said, the corporation intends to have routine maintenance.

“We want it to become a feature of what we do on a regular basis, so the engineers are working on developing a schedule for the year,” Williams said.

judana.murphy@gleanerjm.com