Homeless impatient with agencies over slow progress of promised shelter

December 19th saw two Christmas treats hosted for sections of the Kingston homeless, displaced and dislocated men who have sex with men grouping the main one was executed by a young turk with his new Yardieboiz Foundation and a hastily joined Jamaica Forum for Lesbians Allsexuals and Gays, JFLAG after he floated his idea to do so in what was to have been some appeasing to settle the very tense relationship between the men and the agency coupled with the battyman entitlement phenomenon that has plagued such agencies and that of Jamaica AIDS Support for Life’s property for years where such persons with that agenda who enter therein those properties feel they must be treated with urgency and they being the community male gay and bisexuals make demands or even break the guidelines set as to how to access such properties, a fact that has also plagued the men for years leading to the seeming non interest by the agencies in addressing the social justice matters chief among them welfare and psycho-social concerns.

With the recent public spectacle yet again via television of the member of parliament having to remove the men from another section of New Kingston with state resources, upset residents spoke their minds, on the same clips and the men also were given their chance to explain themselves in a sense in at least one report via Television Jamaica, TVJ this was of course not after two heated exchanges and almost violent attack allegedly by a few of the men towards the person in the form of the female reporter one Miss Darah Smith of TVJ who threatened to report the matter to the police I was able to confirm.

see: Kingston Homeless MSM Evicted (yet again) with the video

She carried out her duties anyway as a journalist and filed her report which was carried on December 6 and posted as an entry on my sister blog GLBTQJA on blogger that was recently opened. This is the side of the matter that has irked many thus the homeless MSM have lost support over the years due to outburst such as those described with many community and others persons saying they do not deserve any assistance. Many influentials have given up as they cannot cope and do not have the expertise to engage the behavioural problems, numbness to authority and discipline. Yet agencies gave media interviews giving the impression that they are doing work with the men, who can forget the television Jamaica, TVJ ones especially with fortunately a member of parliament, a police Superintendent and a reformed New Kingston Civic Association who before were very homophobic but now open for dialogue and with all those positive variables in place to make the process and dialogues far more lucrative for all involved we were told that a shelter was in the making so much so that a town hall meeting was held though sparsely attended by the LGBT community on November 7, members of the community consisting of other stakeholders and even the men themselves  (maybe reflecting how persons feel towards the men and their issues) where a shelter structure and indeed a space was supposedly identified to be opened on December 1. The promised documents of the assessments in response to a set of questions I posed on the types of interventions to be used are yet to come to hand.

As it turns out the identified space was not confirmed and the negotiations fell through between JFLAG and the lawyers for the property with zoning and other challenges presenting themselves so the idea was scrapped thus leaving the men out of luck, some of whom we do not know maybe engaged in this new pilot project which is to last for three months, we can conclude the announcement of the shelter was premature.  The previous Safe House Pilot that was closed is basically to be reopened in other words, a project if allowed to have continued back then in 2009/10 when it was dubiously closed would have taught us many things including the behavioural challenges those of us knew of for years and the previously mentioned battyman entitlement phenomenon as well. A recent stoning incident at JASL’s offices with some of the men clashing with staff who would occasionally use their offices to fetch water is one such reminder of that problem, a fight between a alleged staff member of JFLAG and one of the leading homeless men after the World AIDS Day function at JASL is also another reminded of how this thing can get out of hand but how one engages such a problematic population is also a factor in all this, as far as I am concerned and indeed some others that’s a major part of the problem but the agencies feel justified in putting their foot down as it were without addressing that fact. The men in particular who are the instigators of these repeated tense moments between the agencies are themselves previous residents of the aforementioned defunct shelter and to this day they are upset that they were made displaced by the very agencies that were to assist even as a shelter was in full flight, the newcomers are made aware of this history so some of them join the throng or are made to do so based on the group dynamics that exist, for the most part I am in support of that in principle, how that anger is expressed is another matter altogether but the agencies and personalities seem to miss the bigger picture in all this.

The fact that the JFLAG office now sits where the shelter once stood is a constant reminder to them in their eyes that they are more of an inconvenience than a concern for the agency as they feel they were moved to be replaced by their office which now by the way has reinstituted the apartheid like security system with a canine team hence the previous unruly, indiscipline and uncouth response the agencies get, this is something I have been at pains to try to point out via previous entries but no one listens or pays attention to that, homelessness does not command sound bites or grabs international headlines as is customary for some narcissistic advocates who feed off a gullible community for the fame and glory so who cares about some dutty battyman? The men hardly visit the property with the regularity as before since the guards are in place but with an ever angry landlord and uncomfortable tenants breathing down the necks of the agencies what are they to do it is being asked by observers?

The men are now nomads again as the Kingston & St Andrew Cooperation allegedly has warned them not to occupy anymore vacant lots or spaces or they will be removed, this is while internal conflicts abound in the group as the dynamics play out with those who are the agitators now getting flack from others who say they are the fault why the agencies ignore them in the first place. This problem is a growing one as well hence the fights as described by residents on the video newsclip separate and apart from the aggressive behaviours that are used as a defensive strategy or as a means of protection, problem is when to turn it on or off as it seems the aggression also occurs when they get to the properties and agencies to access treatment care and support as it were but none of which are forthcoming in any meaningful manner. The more docile homeless/displaced community members are assisted somewhat, a few have been integrated into other shelters of course provided they curtail certain things such as effeminate aesthetics and so on while maintaining their jobs (for those still employed), a few have ruined such opportunities by exposing themselves again due to “bad behaviour” others have been given temporary shelter with friends but that too has its share of challenges as allegations pilferage and deep mistrust have all but made that kind of assistance a rare opportunity and when that does not spoil it then homo-negativity or homophobia does as was evident in an arson in November at a popular drag queen’s home who offered some assistance to some of the young men. Persons like myself who have space to assist are sceptical to do so and also the financial resources are just not there, a point I raised in a question at that town hall meeting where I asked if JFLAG would consider as a part of its crisis intervention program (I had proposed this before while working there) that they offer psycho social interventions for the individual housed in private spaces made available by willing LGBTians and also financial input via stipends to offset costs during the stay, only displaced persons would qualify who have displaced the diligences to adjust in such an environment etc. A more structured space would be needed for homeless persons who have been so for extended periods.

We are now being told that a pilot is to be tried yet again for January for three months via a brief exchange I had with JFLAG’s Executive Director Mr Dane Lewis on the weekend where he claims they cannot find a physical space to carry out the project. It is sad that all of these issues over the years since the closure of the last pilot could have been avoided including the murders of several of the men be they homophobic caused or in-ter/tra community related, the crisis communication by the agencies which has been poor overall needs to address that so the public has a clearer understanding and not left cynical about what happens to LGBT victims of such crimes as caused by us in lover’s quarrels.

Which leads me to the title of this entry, after spending almost all night on the road window shopping and hanging out with friends I came across some of the men in parts of Half Way Tree and New Kingston and then in Spanish Town as I made my way home and believe me a few of the men are furious about many things (which from my experience can spread quite easily). Some have expressed that they do not want to hear from JFLAG anymore, others refused to attend the treat that was planned by the agency or that they were not invited, others say if a shelter opened they may go but not cooperate, some say they just want a job to move on with their lives. One set in Spanish Town say they feel invisible as no one from the agency has bothered to pay them any attention as Kingston gets the interest and they do not intend to journey there as they get some help from the “bosses” in the area they are in via odd jobs and other activities. The men who were burnt out nearing Sydenham some time ago are elsewhere now.

Some of the men expressed a growing concern by those of whom who have seen it before in the form on HIV prevention messaging fatigue where the men feel they are diseased persons (not directly said but implied) as when they do see anyone from the agencies (numbering some five or more) it is condoms, testing (some being paid a $1000 stipend to do so) and safer sex messaging that comes and basically nothing more, they feel as if all they are are worthless, oversexed gays in the eyes of the agencies and they want more attention than that. Ironically this is not coming from older MSM who are more than exposed to this and some peer educator training or repeated interventions but younger males who say they prefer such matters be discussed in a office or clinical settings (again not their exact words but implied) and more personal matters be addressed when the outreach officers come to visit, this maybe evidenced in how comfortable the men were to tell their stories and to simply talk as long as someone would listen intently that is as they also raised mistrust issues as well. Some of the very outreach personnel from the agencies were deemed untrustworthy with information hence the men just tacitly engage them, take the condoms and be very abrupt for example.

Talk therapy is something I had long suggested from my days at JFLAG as it is an effective tool in crisis interventions to assist persons in releasing some of those tensions and anxieties following an attack or homo/lesbo/bi/transphobic episode. All some of the youngsters need is to talk including the violent ones but the space and times are also crucial. The one or two persons who carry out the outreach for JFLAG is certainly not enough whilst the organization as far as I am concerned is far too top heavy.

Meanwhile the chases, abuse and attacks continue as only two weeks ago the men had to flee a section of New Kingston where they had started to congregate but with the media attention, the effeminate posturing publicly and other matters they are all too easily identified these days so anywhere they go they are picked on by a homophobic public who view them via stereotypical lenses.  The beating if an alleged gay man downtown some three weeks ago is no consolation and the other rumoured matters with their counterparts in rural Jamaica, especially western Jamaica where I and others are kept apace as to some of the happenings there especially due to the crackdown of the police on the lotto scamming which has its share of gay/bi players as well.

Did the parties involved in forming the previous Safe House waist our time?

Safe house logo

A shelter pilot project is a start but as I have said and will always say all of this could have been avoided, the Gay Lesbian and Bisexual Community, GLABCOM Committee(s) of JASL on which I sat with others concerned for several dispensations, the former Executive Director who spear headed that Safe House Pilot and the volunteers then now feel we all waisted our time, hundreds of man hours consulting , making suggestions and concerns some of which expressed on paper locked away in a filing cabinet somewhere to arrive at the shelter being closed and watching the lives of the then populations with new ones added almost daily just relegated to being the least amongst us yet we are told no resources are available yet JFLAG has two Program Managers and both put together cannot seem to make one to come up with a sensible response to this longstanding issue? A pilot for the purposes to show the funders is one thing and that can only be temporary but why not a properly prepared grant proposal with the stakeholders including those from the previous dispensations who are still interested in engaging to join in also will it be just a shelter to only provide a roof and a meal or a full transitional living facility complete with the relevant psycho social staffing to deal with the stabilization and behaviour modification (with diligence building and social skills building) activities?

Lord knows I would hate to see all those challenges on the road now be imported into a space that would just be a ticking timebomb waiting to explode with possibly disastrous consequences.

Check out the homeless msm tab for all the entries before on this matter and also see the 2009 and the ultimatum given by Jamaica AIDS Support at the time despite the fact it was not really their purview to intervene on welfare or social justice issues when HIV?AIDS is their mandate following the explosion of the homeless populations since 2007 but if the board of  JASL at the time were concerned about the matter they should have not allowed the shelter to open in the first place and impress upon or collaborate with JFLAG to roll out the project instead of shutting down a project in full flight all because of “rowdy behaviour” so much for priorities. Weren’t they reading the reports submitted by the then Executive Director to know of the project in the first place? Yet she was forced to resign it seems from a board that never met with regularity but found it necessary to act with most members present on that faithful January 26, 2010 to put the nail in her coffin as it were. See the older post from 2010 where the men took action to get the board’s attention: CLICK HERE 

and: The Quietus ……… The Safe House Project Closes (February 6. 2010)

see all 54 posts from Gay Jamaica Watch: CLICK HERE

see all 29 posts from GLBTQ Jamaica: CLICK HERE

If persons on the board including its experienced Chair knew of the problems regarding the men beforehand, msm group dynamics and or behavioural challenges from service users would have caused security issues why sanction the opening of the pilot in the first place or at least on the property? Open it offsite then! But to close it in full flight is what has ticked me off ever since.

All of this could have been avoided with proper foresight and planning, lives could have been saved I dare say (the murders over the three plus years), and the agencies now would not have to reach for the very pilot shelter structure response idea they refused in the first place,  some it seems though the newer populations like their predecessors would have gone underground and remained out of sight so out of mind, introverted if your will due to the national psyche towards homosexuality, homo-negativity and effeminacy the opposite unexpectedly occurred the men are extroverted thus leading to unneeded attention to themselves, the repeated reminders to society though ethically problematic that effeminate men are here and other matters taking us to where we are today.

Coincidentally vulnerable populations was a matter of discourse on radio last evening with the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition, CVC on Nationwide News with Cliff Hughes,  where men who have sex with men were identified among others as those who need help and social justice as it were, the former Chairman of Jamaica AIDS Support for Life board at the time of the Safe House Pilot project’s closure Mr Ian McKnight appeared on Nationwide Radio in a brief interview which irked some of the community members who heard it while labelling him a hypocrite. The interview spoke to some law firm advocates in New York affording equal access to justice in the Dominican Republic and Haiti where groups like the CVC intend to expand their coverage, as for support services the firm City of University New York Law School created a model called the incubus of justice that apparently prepares new lawyers to work in charity typed environments while earning at the same time, it also gives practical experiences in such environments in a post graduate type training as well.

As for the CVC the Chair in the form of Mr McKnight said among other things that “……here in Jamaica we work through several of our member organizations with the vulnerable populations ….. we have long said that part of the great block where HIV interventions are concerned where human rights are denied left right and centre for these populations, it is fashionable and alright for people to be turned away from a clinic because you look a certain way or your believed to participate in a particular activity …………. these are issues we have been pounding at for many years not only in Jamaica but the region ……..”

Speaking in such flowery terms about vulnerable groups and giving a feeling of cooperation and cohesiveness when the opposite is the reality was expressed by some after hearing it. I did not hear the interview live myself but I was sent excerpts of it via email from a reader who recorded it using his phone and who himself was livid at the presentation given the context of the homeless/displaced and other issues.  The CVC and indeed JFLAG were silent publicly for the most part in 2009 between the ultimatum given by JASL to the men and the subsequent implosion/closure of the Safe House Pilot with the very same “vulnerable populations” in the form of dislocated/homeless msm (though rowdy as described by the aforementioned agencies) made re-displaced or homeless barring any stabilization work with such expertise resided in the very organizations at the time. Mr McKnight was vocal however via the Jamaica Observer in 2011 after the second civil disobedience action the some of the homeless men took which made news where he passed the responsibility for providing shelter for homeless msm to government.  We all know full well that that is an ideal but the realities say otherwise to include possible austerity measures and cutting in government spending.

What was also raised by the clip sender was the silence from the CVC/JASL/JFLAG regarding HIV treatment failure within the MSM community and recent troubling deaths of long timers and the results of the last MSM HIV survey which seemed to be held tightly to the chest of those in the know for all intents and purposes we know is higher than the 32.7% since the last one in 2007.

HIV prevention seems to be the be all and end all and no real emphasis placed on the psycho sexual/social, self efficacious work and fulsome community development then it is no wonder why as aforementioned some of the men feel so fatigued by the repeated safer sex interventions which seem to bog down the other personal goals and objectives the men may have and want to share but either do not have the space nor the requisite personnel to do same.

What about persons living their truths?

Real social justice please!!!!!!!!

For the sake of the least amongst us, tolerance is more than expecting John Public to be comfortable with homosexuality it also means lifting those within our ranks to some semblance of normalcy and recognizing them.

Of note other non LGBTQian homeless and displaced populations especially young makes I have since gathered are also watching this development closely as they are wondering when their turns will come and if they can possible enter the facility if and when it opens, this came to light via a discussion with a nurse in at another shelter faculty who has expressed some concern regarding homeless msm. The cross socialization of the groups has been happening by virtue of the category they fall in there is some tolerance happening, the previous rifts for example between the Half Way Tree heterosexual homeless males (windshield wipers and car washers) has died down somewhat as they share of the spoils from car washing and snack sales that some of both groups are involved in at street dances and parties. The gelling factor in other words seems to be the cooperation for economic reasons between the groups.

Peace and tolerance

H

podcast: Homeless impatient with agencies over slow progress for promised shelter

additional reading:
Challenges for homo/bisexual males continue for December 2012

From the pen of one of our homeless brothers

Some concerns from Western Jamaica on homelessness.

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