As Shirley Nugent prepares for another possible battle with cancer, she is grateful to have the comfort and security of her own home, which was provided through the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development’s Indigent Housing programme.
The 64-year-old resident of Hamilton Mountain in Oracabessa, St. Mary, was presented with the keys to the new studio unit, valued at $4.5 million, by portfolio Minister Desmond McKenzie earlier this year.
The unit is constructed on a parcel of land that she inherited from a relative.
Achieving the milestone of homeownership was no easy feat for Nugent whose journey was fraught with significant health challenges, including being diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2003 at age 52.
The cancer was discovered while she was being treated for gallstones.
“The doctors told me it was a life-or-death situation because I had both complications at the same time. I found out about the stones first and was preparing for surgery for that, then I found out about the cancer. They had to put off the gall bladder stone-removal surgery and do the cancer-removal surgery first, because I was bleeding [excessively]. I was dying slowly,” she recalled.
That was in February 2004 and she had another surgical procedure to remove the stones from her gall bladder in October of that same year.
Nugent’s fight with cancer is not over, as she said she has been informed by her doctor that the disease is showing signs of returning.
Further complicating her condition was the diagnosis of lumbar spondylosis in 2016, which is the degeneration of the vertebrae and disks of the lower back. The condition affects her ability to walk. She also has a heart condition and deteriorating vision.
Despite her health challenges, Nugent shared that she has strong faith in God, and said she is determined to live and with her new home she is planning for her future.
“I just talk to God and say Father God, if it is your will, keep me alive… but I am not giving up,” she vows.
She is making the home her own and has already planted some hedges, which she boasts “are catching so good”.
Nugent has big plans for her new home, and she shares that she will be doing more landscaping and gardening, planting food crops such as corn, gungo peas and okra, and intends to install modest perimeter fencing in the future.
With the assistance of her church, she will also be rearing chickens, which will serve as a source of income.
She also receives support from neighbours. “They rally around and help me if I have any problem,” she said.
The Indigent Housing Programme falls under the Ministry’s Municipal Social Assistance (MSA) Programme. It provides housing solutions to the registered poor and is spearheaded by each municipality’s Poor Relief Department.
McKenzie said that the initiative is designed for persons like Nugent who are good, law-abiding citizens who have fallen on hard times and are in need of assistance.
“It is the intention of this Administration to ensure that those who are in need of proper housing [can have access to it]… and we in local government are playing our part to improve the housing stock across the country,” he says, noting that the programme is part of a larger government mandate to provide quality housing for all Jamaicans
Applicants must demonstrate ownership of the property on which the unit is to be constructed and provide the relevant documentation as proof that they are lawfully entitled to build on the land.
Three types of housing solutions are provided under the programme – a studio unit, a one-bedroom unit, and a two-bedroom family unit.
The houses are made of concrete for longevity and sloped roofs that enable rainwater harvesting. Basic furnishing is also included.
Nugent said that her journey to homeownership started in 2006, and expressed her gratitude for the intervention from the State, noting that she feels valued.
She is also expressing gratitude to Councillor for the Oracabessa Division, Sheldon Kidd, who assisted her in the application process through to approval.
The former domestic worker, who lived with relatives prior to receiving the keys to her own dwelling, notes that “when you have your own place it is different from when you live with someone and it is not your place. The houses are built sturdy and safe because the houses are grilled”.
“I appreciate it very much. This is a big improvement ]for) me…I have to give God thanks for His blessing. I got more than I bargained for,” she said.