People Without A Voice-The “Woodstock”Crisis

As you travel from Chamberlain Rd onto Austerville Drive, less than a kilometre into Austerville Drive, on your left you will encounter a sight for sore eyes. This is the zone euphemistically known as “Woodstock”.

Immediately you will be struck by the inimical housing conditions. Most of the blocks are made up of narrow two-storey tenements, each housing about eight families, in some cases consisting of about 12 to 20 people. The buildings are smack up against one another and flush to the sidewalk. They were built for inexpensive, crowded living and originally served as the starting point, but now house  five generations of families in each unit.These people are huddled in these ghetto conditions while they go through all the familiar pains of being the outcasts of the land. This zone is smaller than one square kilometre but claims more than thirty thousand residents.

The streets are alive with people when the weather is warm. These streets are also dirty. Bearing the traces of garbage that never quite made it from the battered cans to the sanitation trucks. Sometimes it seems that both the people and the debris on the streets have oozed out of the tenements, and in a sense that is so.

Most of the tenements have not been maintained properly, though their internal condition may vary considerably. Two buildings side by side may look almost identical from the street. Inside, one is relatively well kept, while the one next to it attacks you with the smell of marijuana and other odours of different narcotics being used liberally. The plaster is cracked, the stairs unsteady with the absence of adequate lighting at night, and obscene words scratched and scrawled on the walls. Even the graffiti that is inscribed on these walls tells the tale of a people who have lost all. 

For the high number of youth living in these conditions, daily life can be grim. Children start their lives on poverty’s front lines, without access to sufficient education, infrastructure or sanitation. They are sometimes subject to hunger and disease, and are thrust prematurely into adult responsibilities.

Rising tensions, high rates of crime and street disorders are believed to stem largely from frustrations and hostilities prevalent among the poorly educated youth who live there and who are not fit for regular employment.

Celeste King, a despondent resident said; “We live in a tiny space of about fifteen square metres. There is barely room to walk around and absolutely no privacy. The teenage boys often stay out late rather than come home to the claustrophobic conditions. It is difficult for children to do their homework, or study for examinations, therefore we have many school dropouts”

That said, living in severely crowded dwellings has been described as the most common form of homelessness.

By: Lorraine Richards

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