Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Former homeless man now doing degree at Caribbean Maritime Institute

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KINGSTON – Being homeless on the streets of downtown Kingston has to be one’s worst nightmare.

In such circumstances, the last place you’re hopeful of finding solace and an avenue to launching your dream career is at a night shelter.

At the Kingston & St Andrew Corporation (KSAC) Council meeting last Tuesday, Mayor Angela Brown Burke proudly announced that an individual at the Marie Atkins Night Shelter, at 65 Hanover Street, Kingston, had started classes at the Caribbean Maritime Institute (CMI) on October 5 towards earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Customs Processes, Freight Forwarding and Immigration.

The individual whom the Mayor made reference to, on Friday told the Jamaica Observer of his struggles and how he left Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland, earlier this year to come to Kingston, after a woman whom he met on Facebook lured him to the city, then abruptly abandoned him when his small nest egg dwindled.

The road to the individual (who asked not to be named or photographed) being able to start part-time classes at CMI has not been easy.

“I left Cambridge High School (on the border of St James and Westmoreland) with a range three level pass in one CXC subject — mathematics,” he recalled.

For a period he worked as a bartender at Couples Swept Away, Negril, but at the same time continued his studies through evening classes at Manning’s School and Grange Hill High School.

“I did some subjects two, two, and one, one,” he said, something which went on until he gained other CXC passes in English, information technology, social studies, principles of business, human and social biology and physical education. He also attended the UWI Open Campus in Savanna-la-mar, where he gained a certificate in supervisory management. With the UWI certificate he was then able to switch jobs and work in a supervisory capacity at a small hotel in Negril.

“However, I had disagreements with the owner of the hotel and I eventually decided to resign before he fired me,” the former homeless man said.

After leaving the hotel job, he said that he “juggled” doing voluntary work as an assistant coach at a high school and at an infant and primary school in Westmoreland.

Meanwhile, with no steady income, the relationship with his girlfriend and the mother of his daughter, now six years old, deteriorated.

That is when he said he struck up the friendship with the woman on Facebook who lived on Maxfield Avenue, St Andrew. “I told her that I had a little money ($75,000) in the bank and she encouraged me to come to town and do job applications. She said I could stay at her place. So in June I came to Kingston and immediately started to send out job applications.

“But when I wasn’t getting any work she told me her mother, who lived somewhere else, was not well. She asked me for money to help her mother. By a quint the money done. Then when she asked if I could help with certain expenses, and I had no money to contribute, she told me that I had to leave.”

He said that she packed up his belongings in his travelling bag “and put me out.”

He said that for about three weeks, “I walked up and down with my bag between Maxfield Avenue and downtown and anywhere night catch me, I sleep. When you find yourself in this situation you have to muscle up yourself. It’s almost like you’re losing track of time, and like I was about to lose my mind.”

The breakthrough came when one day while he was walking on the waterfront near the Digicel headquarters he got the courage ‘to approach a mature lady,’ Ms Sonia “and tell her my story. She could have been my mother.”

Ms Sonia not only empathised, he said, but told him that Father Richard Ho Lung had two shelters where he could probably find temporary accommodation. She accompanied him to the Father Ho Lung shelters at Hanover Street and at North Street but discovered that only the disabled and people with severe illnesses were accommodated at those two shelters. However, it was a guard at one of the Father Ho Lung shelters who informed them of the nearby Marie Atkins Shelter.

Having found a place where he could temporarily stay, the man said that he immediately started to “look at my options”.

A Mr Lewis at the Marie Atkinson shelter helped him to get a job as a storeroom attendant.

“The money was little,” but he used it to obtain documents such as an ID and his TRN that he had lost while he was homeless on the street.

At the shelter he was encouraged to enrol in a course at the HEART Trust/NTA. It was at that time that he recalled that some time earlier, while in Westmoreland, he had applied to the CMI and had been accepted.

“The following day I went to the CMI, applied and was [again] accepted. But I had no money,” he said.

With the assistance of the Inspector of Poor Elaine Walker and the Member of Parliament Ronald Thwaites, who is also minister of education, the man of the moment is in the process of trying to obtain a loan from the Students’ Loan Bureau to be able to continue his studies at CMI.

He also currently works three days per week as a security guard. (Jamaica Observer)

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