Spare a thought for the home­less dur­ing hur­ri­canes

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

THERE IS some­thing un­mis­tak­ably Ja­maican about how we re­spond to storms, and Hur­ri­cane Matthew was no dif­fer­ent. Al­most ev­ery trop­i­cal storm or hur­ri­cane sight­ing starts with ini­tial scep­ti­cism and re­count­ing of pre­vi­ous failed fore­casts by the Met Ser­vice.

As the sys­tem gets closer to Ja­maica, the num­ber of scep­tics slowly re­duces, and then when the hur­ri­cane is one or two days away, there is a mad rush to su­per­mar­kets and whole­sales. Cus­tomers duel over bread, crack­ers and canned foods. Moth­ers and grand­moth­ers have mas­sive cook­outs of all those de­li­cious meats they were sav­ing up.

Port Royal res­i­dents dis­play their con­tempt for weather fore­cast­ers and refuse to re­lo­cate, pre­fer­ring to sink with their ships. One can ex­pect hur­ri­cane cul­ture to come into full swing ev­ery time with­out fail. I mean, who doesn’t love the sound of last-minute bat­ten­ing down and the sweet smell of kerosene lamps.

An un­for­tu­nate as­pect of our hur­ri­cane cul­ture, how­ever, is that it demon­strates how our Govern­ment has failed those among us who are home­less.

Where, in our rush to beat our bak­ery aisle ri­vals to the last six loaves of white bread on the shelves, do we stop to con­sider the home­less men and women who we, in­clud­ing my­self, rou­tinely ig­nore on our way to school, work, etc.? These per­sons who reg­u­larly sleep on con­crete side­walks on thin pieces of card­board with hardly any shel­ter are made es­pe­cially vul­ner­a­ble dur­ing the hur­ri­cane sea­son. What ex­actly is the long-term pol­icy and/or strat­egy to pro­vide shel­ter for those per­sons who find them­selves dis­pos­sessed and des­ti­tute?

REM­EDY THEIR SIT­U­A­TION

Suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments have man­aged to skirt around the is­sue of home­less­ness.

Even though they have agreed at the in­ter­na­tional level that all Ja­maicans have the right to so­cial se­cu­rity and safety nets where they are vul­ner­a­ble, they have not done enough for the home­less. Where in the grand schemes for na­tional de­vel­op­ment, macroe­co­nomic growth and job cre­ation is there con­sid­er­a­tion for the home­less? And if there is con­sid­er­a­tion, where in that is there a strat­egy to re­duce the in­ci­dence of home­less­ness?

Has the Govern­ment given thought to those per­sons who are most af­fected by dis­place­ment and the special mea­sures that need to be taken to rem­edy their sit­u­a­tion? Preg­nant teens, per­sons with men­tal-health chal­lenges, per­sons who are poor, and LGBT per­sons are at height­ened risk for the dis­place­ment. How will our Govern­ment ad­dress their re­al­i­ties?

Half of the year is spent with the knowl­edge that a trop­i­cal storm or hur­ri­cane could ravage the is­land within days. Within this con­text, home­less­ness is not an is­sue that should be eas­ily avoided. A na­tion can­not be ‘pre­pared’ for a disas­ter where there are those among us who the Govern­ment gives scant re­gard. GLEN­ROY MUR­RAY Pol­icy Of­fi­cer, WE-Change glen­roy.am.mur­ray@gmail.com

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