“A nation is judged by the way it treats its most vulnerable citizens”
As Jamaicans we ought to be aware of the strategic value of caring for our most vulnerable to the transformation of the Jamaican society and the critical role that all the citizens must play in reshaping the social and economic landscape of the country.
Homelessness and issues such as the health services, housing solutions, Education and the environment should figure prominently in reversing the cycle of poverty and access to basic services for the most vulnerable in our society.
A COMMUNITY FOR THE HOMELESS
The NEST program is designed to impact and transform the basic needs of homeless, sane, able bodied individuals and families by providing basic accommodation, food and safety on a permanent sustainable basis. The NEST program will provide participants with subsidized living accommodation, with basic services, in a secure communal setting. The concept revolves around empowering all able bodied homeless persons who have the ability to contribute to the society through work or other active economic participation. The typical NEST compound will comprise communal facilities catering to canteen, common rooms, library/homework/IT centre, laundry facilities, first aid rooms, daycare centre, administrative offices and security post. Assistance will be provided to establish a job bank for “clients” to receive opportunities for earning outside the facility. The compound will be landscaped and have facilities for recreational activities such as gym, drama, light sports events, games small concerts and cultural events.
“TOGETHER WE CAN BE THE CHANGE WE WANT TO SEE”
Poverty and homelessness have become a growing concern in Jamaica with the statistics reporting an over 26% increase in homeless persons on our streets since 2012. “There has been a 26 per cent jump in the number of homeless persons across the island between 2012 and March 2015, but only 181 of those persons are on the poor relief roll, while there are others who are not captured in the Government survey of those who have nowhere to call home. According to statistics dated March 2015, the Board of Supervision (BoS) in the Poor Relief Department recorded 1,418 homeless people, up from the 1,057 who were captured in its point in time survey that was done between November 18 and 24 in 2012.”
The household poverty rate continue to rise above the 14.4% recorded in 2012.This suggest that household poverty will continue to be a challenge as economic times get harder and real economic growth continue to elude us.
Poverty manifest itself in the lacking of reasonable basic human needs. People are considered living in poverty when their means to provide the basic amenities for themselves are lacking. Society regard this as living below the poverty line. There is an unquestionable relationship between poverty and crime and this has certainly manifested itself in Jamaica.
We must change the equation as a people and we cannot wait until, if or when the Government can do something about it. As a people we must recognize that our destiny is our responsibility and our future generation will not necessarily be forgiving of those of us who could have done but did not.
Unite Jamaica People (UJP) /Association of Businesspersons (AOB) have decided to lead the charge on homelessness in Jamaica for a sustainable change that will not rely on the offering of continuous periodic hot meals with underfunded “night shelters” that continue to reinforce indignity and celebrate the poverty.
Unite Jamaica People/AOB through its concept of National Empowerment Shelter Transformation (NEST) Program intend to establish a rehabilitative community of homeless persons who will reside and be gainfully occupied in an environment that restores dignity and fosters goodwill toward fellow residents that will result in a bonding relationship of family. Unite Jamaica People/AOB in collaboration with its Unity Partners intend to enjoin all Civic minded individuals and organizations to “buy in” to the unique vision of the NEST which will see the residents taking charge and responsibility for their existence within the community.
The assessment and mentoring program will essentially offer evaluation, counseling, individual developmental plans, life skills coaching and short term counseling services to singles, newcomers and parents on an individual, group and family basis. The program will help newcomers deal with their past traumas caused by whatever the circumstance or experience they endured to have brought them to this place .The program will offer appropriate supports and referrals about relevant issues to satisfy adjustment in the Jamaican Society. Mentoring will be provided to help residents deal with problems of everyday living and help them deal with times of personal crisis such as adjusting to a new life in the NEST, eviction, divorce, adjusting to a working lifestyle or any other circumstance which represent trauma. Responsible Parenting information and/or supports will be made available to families, individually or groups.
The NEST is designed to discourage squatting, vagrancy and idle pursuits. It is intended to provide a medium term (2-4 years) permanent housing solution and intervention to provide relief and allow participants to get their lives in order and move to eventually provide their own permanent legitimate housing solutions. To enter the NEST the particular circumstance of the individuals will be considered to include, the individual's mental, physical and social adaptability and any eligibility for government /NEST assistance. All options such as: transitional, temporary, circumstantial, supportive and social reasons for housing will be investigated.
Socioeconomic condition applications will be required and thoroughly investigated to ensure that only very qualified applicants are included in the program. Residents’ participation and progress will be monitored closely over time and results updated and submitted on a monthly basis. There will be monthly group monitoring meetings to ascertain how facilities are being used and treated and to report on adherence to policies and enforcement procedures. Discipline in its widest forms will be a paramount feature of the community. There will be rules and conditions which must be adhered as a condition of NEST residence and participation. There will be a zero tolerance approach to indiscipline and non-conformation to rules and responsibilities.
Housing blocks will be of converted 40 ft containers of two stories within a security manned gated community approx.50-100 acres in size to facilitate an agricultural and trade centre component .Residents will be required to participate fully in ensuring the integrity of the building and the aesthetics of the entire facility is sustained and maintained. There will be a zero tolerance approach to enforcement discipline, rules and regulations.
Concept use of modified shipping containers for housing.
The complex will be comprised of dual accommodation studio apartments that are designed to accommodate approx 100 persons on an expandable basis and all residents will contribute to their living accommodation through the participation in the projects involved in the program or other approved method. Power, laundry services will be accessed by swipe cards and maintenance of the complex common areas will be by a roster system for any and all janitorial and cleaning services .The acceptance of certain responsibilities will be an important part of the criteria for gaining approval for residence. All apartments will be provided with a beds and night table and clothes closet which must be maintained to the highest possible standards. Damage to, or vandalism can lead to the termination of residence in the NEST. Handouts and information about services and regulations in the new community will be circulated and enforced.
There will be a community area with appropriate health and sanitary facilities annexed to the dormitory area which will cater to all the residents. The intervention here will be geared at motivating and upgrading them to be useful community members and apart from ensuring their hygiene they will be required to be participants in the cleaning, gardening and maintenance of the complex and other government owned or controlled facility (special arrangement to be negotiated with govt.) along with other tasks and responsibilities within their capabilities while transitioning them to earning for themselves. It must be noted that the NEST will not cater for the needs of the severely disabled, chronically ill or mentally unstable. Where ever these persons are identified they will be referred to or where possible taken to the relevant and appropriate authority and facility for assistance.
The NEST Employment Program will provide residents with employment and training opportunities and help prepare them for employment in the wider society. NEST will establish a Job placement and services desk and seek employment opportunities for all its residents who are so capable and desirous .All NEST residents will be registered and their skills assessed and career and/or employment path developed with a view to having them becoming self-reliant, tax compliant ,empowered and independent in the shortest possible time . Resumes will be prepared for all able bodied residents who must, under house rules strive to become self-reliant through employment. For certain occupations where tools will be required, NEST will seek to have these provided on a subsidized rental scheme to facilitate the trade. Through the NEST program, residents will learn job search and interview techniques and will also be provided with referrals to job training programs and job interviews where their social attitude and job skills can be confirmed.
The NEST Program will offers wide ranging assistance to help dislocated families, couples, single men and women overcome social trauma, joblessness and shelter needs. Participants will receive assistance throughout the dislocation process with information and support at each step. The program will be designed to ensure that all participants understand their responsibility to contribute in some way toward their subsistence from day one. ”THERE ARE NO FREE LUNCHES IN LIFE”. No direct financial assistance will be given to any participant; however, subsidy for survival will be made on their behalf and charged to their account.
Contributory Services will be offered to access schools, health care, job search, community orientation, financial counseling and daycare services provided. The NEST program will be operated under strict uncompromising disciplinary rules and all participants will accept all the terms and conditions for participation as presented in agreement contract. There will be strict enforcement and a zero tolerance approach to deviations. This will be necessary to ensure that discipline is maintained and the program is not compromised for others in any way.
On completion of the NEST residence program (which is anticipated to be within a max. thirty six months) it is the aim of the organization to transition participants into NHT properties which would have been negotiated for NEST ownership, or into generally available housing which suit their need as renters or purchasers. Monitoring and mentoring will be offered to assist former residents of The NEST Community to live independently, to become role models and mentors, to support others in their community and to generally become empowered, independent and improve social conditions for themselves. For those who did not have access to the NEST Program but are in danger of becoming homeless, the Outreach Assistance will provide intervention in association with other civil society groupings to assists people to acquire suitable housing, provide eviction prevention interventions and conflict resolution, life skills training and education on tenant rights and advocacy for persons to receive their benefits and guidance. The NEST outreach officers will offer services for housing searches, assistance with filling and updating social housing applications.
Of paramount interest to NEST is the plight of children who fall victim to unfortunate circumstances which cause them to be traumatized because of the poverty and circumstances of their parents or guardians. Educational facilitation, Social, cultural and physical activities will be offered to children. Teenagers and young adults will be motivated to be responsible community participants and will be encouraged to assist the elderly and younger children in the NEST. Recreational programming will include arts and crafts activities, sports such as basketball, soccer and outings i.e. to places of interest and educational value. Age appropriate developmental activities will also be featured. Parent relief, which may include time-specific babysitting, parent supports and referrals to, and advocacy with day care, will be provided.
PROJECT SOCIAL ACTIVITIES
To maintain a sustainable and viable intervention, the project will be stakeholder friendly and several innovations will be introduced to assist the program to ensure all the participants involved are motivated, engaged and feel a part of the program. Absolutely everyone in the project will be registered within the community, placed on the national voters list and will be registered under the tax compliance act.
Some of the notable activities which will be available to the wider community and involve the participation of the residents are: Monthly newsletter “Bird’s Nest”, which includes planning of upcoming program events, student’s involvement, information about program procedures and policies, birthday club and monthly activity, student accomplishments, and messages from the program Administrators. Compulsory fitness Program for ALL residents, Games night and many other bonding activities will be implemented.
FUNDING THE PROGRAM
It is proposed that the program will commence with one NEST development projects, the first to be in or near the corporate area with others to follow between Trelawny / St.James and a possible mid island Manchester /St.Elizabeth .The primary capital development sponsor/investor for the program we anticipate could be a private sector /Diaspora led venture supported by the NHT , NIF with other institutional support from Gov. and agencies. The AOB/UJP will be the owners and administrators of the project, facilities and goodwill from the program. Other stake holders will be the Private sector, churches, civil society organizations and other charities.
The responsibility for primary operational funding will be the purview of the Directorate, administration and management of the NEST program as established by AOB/UJP.
All sustainable programs require significant sources of reliable funding to ensure its viability and longevity. Some of the sources to be targeted and concretized for the program will be as follows:
.Diaspora support and general funding
.The in-house concept tithing and offering program
.Appeal to staff associations and interest groups and funds
.Corporate community appeal (Sponsor staff salaries for tax deduction)
.Dedicated sponsors (Church etc.)
.Semi -annual All Denomination NEST offering.
.Donations and Special appeal
.Fund raising activities
The above represent a general Executive summary of a much needed intervention program for the “rescue” of the more unfortunate and homeless among us.
Our appeal at this time is for pledges and support for the establishment of the NEST program as a means of arresting the scourge of homelessness and poverty in Jamaica.
BOARD OF MANAGEMENT
The NEST will be developed and operated by a Board of Governors who will establish the guiding principles and oversee occupation within the community which in the first instance will house approximately 100 residents with the capacity for expansion within a secure well-appointed complex. The first community will be established in proximity to the urban areas of Kingston and St. Andrew as research has shown that approx.50% of the nation’s homeless are located in this area. Although the NEST will not be able in its first phase to satisfy the total needs of those who are disenfranchised and reside on the streets it will be the aim of the community to have the housed residents produce and assist with the care, feeding and protection of those who could not be accommodated at this time.
The vision will be for a community established on approx 100 acres (NLA lease) of land with housing and care facilities as the primary structures constructed from mainly modified shipping containers with all human needs for a dignified residence. The community will house a small farming complex which will see the rearing of animals, chickens, fish and the cultivation of vegetables and other agricultural crops for sustainable existence. (Corporate industry business and Gov. entities will be asked to sponsor the establishment and supervision on the various aspects of the farm) eg. Jamaica Broilers will be asked to establish the fish farms and CB chicken, the poultry farm etc.
Training in skills and work habits, etiquette and good attitudes will be a hallmark of the community as we will seek job placement outside the community where we will be engaging private sector and government with proposals for the provision of work within the scope of qualified residents. The ultimate aim for each resident will be have him or her regain dignity and be able to reintegrate in society as a productive and participatory citizen within the wider community with a lifetime bond to assisting the NEST transform the lives of others.
Building awareness to the plight of our more vulnerable and disenfranchised citizens is seen as vital to ensure National “buy in” to assist with solving the issue of poverty and homelessness.
As an important intervention we will be making a call on the Government of Jamaica for a declaration of a week to be designated “Homeless people awareness week”. The dates we will be proposing will coincide with activities prior to and leading into Christmas when the spirit of love and giving is on the minds of many of our citizens to whom we will appeal for charity relating to our poor and homeless. The week of December 18th-24th annually will be suggested dates.
Request for dedicating the date through proclamation will be submitted to the relevant arm of the Government of Jamaica after the requisite amount of signatures and support is gained through petition.
Draft letter to Gov’t of Jamaica
Proclamation for Homeless People Awareness Week
Over the years, many of our citizens have fallen upon hard times and have been relegated to our streets as vagrants, squatters and outcasts, usually because of circumstances beyond their control.
The inhumane and undignified treatment to which they have been subjected under our watch sends a message of an uncaring and callous society. Recently in Montego Bay we saw where one homeless man was set ablaze and left on the streets with open sores to tend.
As a society and people who pride ourselves as being helpful and caring we are certainly failing the over one thousand five hundred (1500) reported Jamaican human beings who have made the streets their home.
Unite Jamaica People and our members and Unity partners are very uncomfortable with the situation and believe we can do far more to address the plight of the less fortunate amongst us to relieve their pain and suffering.
As a first step we believe that it is vital to sensitize the country and make them aware while soliciting their caring and involvement as we call for a proclamation for the week of December 18th-24th and annually thereafter to be designated and declared “Homeless people awareness” week.
During this period it is anticipated that all efforts will be made to provide relief to all extremely poor and homeless to culminate as soon thereafter with the launch of a self sustaining farm based residential community for homeless persons.
We hereby solicit your support and cooperation for our call and ask that the awareness begin today for the plight of our homeless and dispossessed brothers and sisters residing on our streets across the island.
Should you require further information on our advocacy and concept for providing relief please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org like us on fb at Unite Jamaica People or visit our website at
Anticipating your support and understanding.