The St Elizabeth Parish Council and its leader, Mayor of Black River Everton Fisher, have earned high praise for their "creative" initiative in opening a new poor relief office in this south central town.
Built at a cost of $3.5 million, the new office on Institution Drive (referred to locally as back street) beside the St Elizabeth Infirmary was formally opened on August 4, four months after the start of construction.
The funds came from the parish council's sale of prime real estate close to the Santa Cruz commercial centre - site of an old, run-down building which previously accommodated the poor relief office as well as the local Red Cross centre.
Minister of Local Government and Community Development, Noel Arscott commended Fisher and his council for being "very creative" in their approach to financing the project without needing to call on central government for help.
"The mayor is not sleeping, he is always on the ball," said Arscott.
The minister joined member of parliament for St Elizabeth North East Raymond Pryce in suggesting that the new facility -- which will also accommodate the Red Cross -- reflected the desire to care for those most in need.
"It shows that we are respecting the poor", said Arscott.
Poor relief offices across Jamaica provide help for those at the very bottom of the socio-economic ladder, defined by chairman of the St Elizabeth Parish Council's Poor Relief Committee, Councillor Sandra White (Brompton Division - PNP) as those "who can't even afford a night's dinner".
Head of the St Elizabeth Poor Relief Department, Marlene Lynch, told the Jamaica Observer more than 100 people regularly seek help at the Santa Cruz Poor Relief office. Across St Elizabeth, there are about 700 poor relief clients, she said.
Arscott told his audience that his ministry was moving to upgrade "professionalism" among those caring for the poor and destitute by providing training.
A 16-week training course was ongoing for caregivers which will allow certification and which he hoped will eventually lead to Jamaica becoming "a leader in the world" in terms of caring for those most in need.
Arscott also expressed hope that in time the upgrading of infirmaries will allow for facilities -- similar to the "private wing" at a hospital -- which would attract earnings.
"You could organise it in a way that persons could leave their loved ones and pay a fee, so that they can be cared for in a proper, safe, clean and decent environment," said Arscott.