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Former street person feeds Ocho Rios' homeless

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OCHO RIOS, St Ann — A man squats wearily on the hard, dusty, concrete sidewalk in this north coast town, seemingly oblivious to the glare of the rising sun and the hundreds of people rushing by.

He is one of nearly 40 persons -- predominantly males -- who roam the streets of the resort town in tattered rags, tugging at the often stubborn conscience of those who are 'better off'.

Their reality is a grim reminder of Charles Simpson's past; a period of more than 10 years that he spent roaming the tough streets of Kingston, oftentimes sifting through heaps of garbage for each life-saving meal, or begging passersby.

Since last year, however, Simpson has been stretching forth his hand in a different kind of way. He is now a fountain of kindness to just about 37 of Ocho Rios' homeless, providing them with two meals every day.

"Is 37 of them I feed every day, two times a day," Simpson told the Observer as he distributed hot meals in the town early last Saturday morning.

"I give them a well-cooked meal every morning. Something heavy with a cup of tea, or I'll give them porridge or soup. In the evenings I'll give them something light -- like a sandwich and a drink."

A former resident of Alpha Boys' Home in Kingston, Simpson, who told the Observer that he was abandoned by his parents at age three, started his life on the street in 1964 shortly after he left the boys' home.

He explained that he worked with a shoemaker for a short period, but when that business closed down he was forced to go on the street.

"I used to do shoemaking with them and after they closed down I had nowhere to go, I had no relative to care for me, so I ended up on the street. I was on the street for many years," he recounted.

"I had to seek my bread out of desolate places. One day I went hungry for four days, [with] not even a biscuit to eat," he recalled. "On the fifth day I stole a three tier wedding cake that some people had put out for a wedding ... after that day I made a pledge that if I should become 'better off', if it is even ten street people, I have to help."

After many years of misfortune, Simpson said, "things slowly started to turn for me and I started doing odd jobs like watchman, gardening, cooking, anything I could find my hands on I would do."

That turnaround, plus the pledge he had made, led Simpson on May 7 last year to start a feeding programme for the homeless in Ocho Rios, and twice a day every day he makes the six-mile journey from his home in Eltham to the seaside town to serve cooked meals.

"Food man come, unnu run come," an obviously excited homeless man who lives under the bridge along the Ocho Rios by-pass bellowed to his colleagues.

"Weh Rascal food? Unnu no collect no food fi him?" another enquired as they dived into the meal of plain rice, pasta and corned beef.

"Me no have no weh fi go enuh, so me affi jam it under the bridge. This is my home, I have no one to care for me," one man, who gave his name as Bill, told the Observer.

"A good thing him (Simpson) a do fi we because whole heap a people who have it nah help the poor and needy," another man added.

Simpson said he has been receiving some help from a few business people in Ocho Rios, including prominent attorney-at-law Linton Gordon who supplies him with $16,000 worth of groceries each month.

"That is my charity outreach to the needy and homeless," Gordon told the Observer. He said that he has been helping to feed the homeless for about 15 years now.

Meanwhile, Simpson, who has dedicated much of his resources to feeding the homeless, said he would like to do more but wants the assistance of more business people in the resort town to help him expand the programme.

"I just need some help. Much of the funds I started with have been depleted, so if more people can come on board I could feed more people, because although I feed 37 every day, there are many who don't get sometimes."

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