The telephone on my desk rang. I answered and was informed that I had a visitor. I asked for the person’s name and not recognizing it, asked to speak to the individual.
“I read your article in your Chronicles and I don’t want to end up like that girl,” a woman’s voice said quietly on the line.
She was referring to last week’s column where I shared some of the experiences of an HIV positive 22-year-old mother of three who was put out by her father and had nowhere to live.
I agreed to see the young woman. She entered my space, took a seat, crossed her legs, fixed her top as if she was attempting to hide the leggings she was wearing and looked me straight in the eyes.
“I am 25, I have three children and I don’t have anywhere to live. Last night I sleep at a woman in [name of the village given] and she tell me it was only for one night…,” she trailed off and her eyes remained fixed on me.
“Where are your children?” I enquired.
“Well the two small one – the two-year-old and seven months old – with Child Care and the big one who is five with the father,” she answered quickly.
“I was in the home for domestic violence victim,” she continued, not giving me an opportunity to respond.
“But a day they gave me a document to sign and I could read and write, you know. So, I read it and I see they were supposed to give me certain things and I was not getting that. So, I left to go and complain to Child Care and I don’t know who get into trouble, but they call and say I abandon my children and Child Care take my children,” she said, still looking directly at me.
I admit that I was becoming uncomfortable under her constant gaze.
I allowed what she told me to sink in and I asked where she lived prior to the one night she spent with a stranger she had approached for help.
“I use to rent a place in [name of the area] but then I couldn’t pay my rent, so I felt ashamed and I just left and didn’t go back. It is not like I had any furniture or anything, but I had my clothes and so and I just left it and I was living with one friend and then another and even at a hotel sometimes,” she answered.
“You know people would help you. But they would only help you up to a certain point, is not like they would help you get somewhere to live, like helping to pay your rent,” she added and then gave me the names of some persons who had been helping her.
She also admitted to telling a lie here and there, which soured relations with some of those persons. She showed me references prepared in her favour by some of them.
“I just want somewhere to live, and I could get my life back together. Our house get take away by the bank and my sister with her then partner bought it and then she put me out. I grow up with my father, I don’t really know my mother,” she said at one point during our conversation.
What was clear was that this young woman was intelligent and had explored all the avenues on accessing state assistance.
I asked where she read my column and why she approached me.
“I read it in a bus, you know, because I don’t live anywhere I would sometimes just take these bus rides to kill time. I wanted to see if I could get some help from the woman who you said was helping the woman you wrote about,” she answered.
“And I don’t want to end up like her, I don’t want to get HIV but because I don’t have nowhere to live I sometimes I have to turn to men, but they only want one thing and I don’t want that. I even have to go to court tomorrow for sentencing because I get charged with jaywalking and I was the one who get injured… I even lost my baby. I was two months’ pregnant,” she added.
Upon my questioning she informed that she had been hit by a car at Regent and Wellington streets and the driver picked her up and took her to the hospital. Later, when she visited the Brickdam Police Station, the driver was also present, and he offered her $2,000 in compensation. She refused, but after the incident was investigated, she was charged.
I told her I would need to verify some of what she was telling me, and I would attempt to access assistance for her.
“You can call anybody. You can call Child Care. I am not lying,” she answered.
I asked her if she had met Ann Greene, Director of the Child Care and Protection Agency (CCPA).
“Yes, and she told me I need psychiatric help,” she said.
I arranged for her to be kept for one night and through a benevolent person gave her some money after I had purchased something for her to eat.
“Everybody has problems, you know,” she said at one point during the conversation.
“I don’t have problems, you know. I have hurdles. My hurdle is that I don’t have a job or somewhere to live but if I get those, my hurdles are gone,” she said.
The following morning, I accompanied her to court. The case was in Court 7, but she was not allowed in, because according to the court orderly she was “wearing a thin pants.”
The pants had been given to her by an acquaintance who had kept her for the night. It was the only thing that could fit her.
Upon being informed that the defendant was wearing “thin pants”, the magistrate took the case jacket, set the case for a later date and indicated that an arrest warrant was issued for the defendant.
When I informed her, she became almost hysterical and I enquired from the orderly why she could not have been allowed in the courtroom.
“I warned her the last time,” he began, before I cut him off saying, “Do you know this woman lives on the streets?” I was not allowed to continue.
She pulled me aside and said, “Alright let’s go.”
The orderly informed her that she should find a better outfit and return before noon and the matter would be called again.
“Why you had to say that to him? Don’t you know people know me? I have pride. I was ashamed,” she chided me as we left the court compound.
She purchased a pair of pants from the money I had given her, and we returned to court. The case was called again and put down for 1 pm the same day.
I should mention that her father was at the court. I approached him, and he gave me the same story about her being put out by her sibling.
“I was in the bush when it happen and I can’t talk to the sister. Right now, I looking to get some money to buy back the house,” he said to me.
But he had no money, not even to pay the fine that was later imposed on her.
She had earlier told me that her mother abandoned her as a baby and lives in the US. The mother has 13 children, and she does not help her even though they connect from time to time on Facebook.
Back in court when the case was called a few minutes after 1 pm, the magistrate ruled that she was guilty.
“The defendant herself said that after waiting for some time to cross she stepped out on the road and raised her hands like a traffic police to stop traffic,” the magistrate said, before imposing a fine of $20,000 or two weeks in prison.
I left her at the court.
An acquaintance, who I later contacted to see what assistance he could provide to the woman, described what had transpired in court as “state violence”. He could not understand why she was not allowed in court the first time.
About half an hour after being sentenced, she was back at my office.
“They were putting the prisoners in the van and I was crying and then I see this lawyer, a lil fine boy, and I give he $3,000 from the same money you give me and he went back to the magistrate and tell she I can’t pay the fine right away and she give me up to May 15th to pay it,” she explained.
She said too that she had to purchase something for her father to eat and she gave him money to put credit on his phone as “he said he would call people to get help to pay the money.” That never materialised.
However, she had a job interview and she left for this and to approach a friend for help. When she returned, she claimed that she had been hired at a call centre but needed a laptop computer. The friend could not help her with accommodation but had given her a pair of shoes. Earlier she had been wearing a pair of slippers.
By the time she returned, I had enlisted the assistance of an acquaintance who had years of experience in the area of social services. He made some suggestions to her, but she had already explored them.
According to her, she has seven subjects at CSEC with Grades 2s and 3s, but she said her parents were unhappy with her performance.
She left about an hour later with some more money and with the intention of checking into a hotel for a few nights and later approaching her recent landlady to see if she would allow her back in the house if some money was paid. That has not materalised, according to her the former landlady told her to uplift her clothes. She plans to do so with police assistance.
She has another job interview next week and maybe temporarily staying at an acquaintance until she “save up some money and find a place.”
‘Want to help her’
I contacted Greene at the CCPA and she indicated that she knew of the woman’s situation. She denied informing the woman she needed psychiatric help but said that after some complaints from the home it was indeed suggested that she be evaluated.
“We want to help her. We want to get her the right help and for her children as well. She was at the home. The home complained, and we said we would have ordered an evaluation because there is something wrong and we need to understand what it is,” Greene told me.
That evaluation was done and among other things it was found that she was depressed. But Greene shared that the woman also has a “secret pain” that needs to be addressed. She displayed “disruptive behaviour” and was in the habit of leaving her children at the home and going out, which resulted in those in charge filing complaints against her including of her “disruptive behavior”, Greene said.
She has since denied this claim.
“Ann Greene is in a position to help me, they could rent a place for me and help me to get my life back together…” she trailed off.
According to Greene, they are still working with the woman, who had presented a plan with her father to the case worker, but this fell through. She said helping her to find a job was an option they were also exploring.
She also announced that the government, through the agency, was working on having a centre established by the end of the year where parents can be temporarily housed with their children while they receive the necessary assistance.
“I have said it time and time again that we don’t want to separate children from their parents, we want to help them. But we need to ensure that the environment is right for the children,” she stressed.
I am not sure what will become of this 25-year-old woman. She asked me and my acquaintance if we were going to abandon her. Maybe not, but we are unable to give her the help she needs.