THE Ministry of Local Government was yesterday scrambling to provide shelter for the homeless after a few were reportedly arrested on the first night of a seven-day, night-time curfew imposed by the Government to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
The curfew was announced by Prime Minister Andrew Holness on Monday, but it appears as if no measures had been put in place in time to ensure that street people did not find themselves in breach of the law.
Amidst questions about the protocol for the homeless, Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie issued a statement apologising for the arrest of people living on the streets of the Corporate Area during curfew hours on Wednesday night.
“I want to really say sorry about this,” he said, explaining that he has asked the police to take any homeless individual they encounter during the curfew to a 100-bed shelter on Church Street, which, he said, was being retrofitted now to accommodate the homeless overnight.
“The facility will be ready later today, and homeless persons can come this evening and stay there. Bear in mind that the Marie Atkins Night Shelter is already up and running. Arrangements are also being made concerning homeless persons in the rest of the country,” he said.
However, yesterday, the police issued a release, saying “Absolutely no homeless persons were arrested anywhere in the country.”
When the Observer checked with the Open Arms Development Centre on Windward Road, administrator Yvonne Grant noted that its admittance programme was not active at this time, and that currently only regular residents are at the facility. She said residents who have to go out to work are observing the curfew hours — 8:00 pm to 6:00 am.
“Most of them have worked that out with their employers, so that they will get in before 8:00 pm, and they wouldn’t necessarily leave out before 6:00 am anyway,” she said.
She added that private arrangements have also been made to provide transportation for staff. “They start well before 8:00 and they finish before six in the mornings, and some of them reside on the premises,” she said. The non-governmental centre provides reintegration and rehabilitative services to the homeless.
Grant commended the local government ministry for the assistance she said has been provided to the facility during this challenging period, and noted that the Ministry of Health and Wellness also continues to provide support.
Meanwhile, the police say the first night of the curfew went smoothly, except for a few people who tried to resist the restrictions.
Communication officer for the Jamaica Constabulary Force, Senior Superintendent Stephanie Lindsay said 10 individuals were arrested across the island. “I don’t think anybody should not be aware, so I think it was just persons breaching the law,” she said.
“In the main, it went very well. A lot of persons complied — about 95 per cent average compliance. There were pockets of persons who put up a little resistance. We will do the best we can to ensure that the same vigilance is observed throughout and communicate with people and encourage them, as much as possible, to obey the rule of law,” Lindsay added.
The police said among the 10 people arrested charged with breaches of the Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures) Order, 2020 was 37-year-old Dayne Mitchell of Penso Street, Kingston who was seen on Wednesday, April 1, in a viral social media video stating his refusal to comply with the order.
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