Business downturn for the weed-whacking project for former displaced St Catherine MSM

As promised here is another periodical update on an income generating/diligence building project now in effect for some now seven former homeless and displaced MSM in St Catherine, it originally had twelve persons but some have gotten jobs elsewhere, others have simply walked away and one has relocated to another parish, to date their weed whacking earning business capacity has been struggling as previous posts on the subject has brought to bear and although some LGBT persons residing in the parish have been approached by yours truly and others to increase client count for the men costs such as gas and maintenance of the four machines that are rotated between the enrolled men are rising weekly literally while the demand is instead decreasing due to various reasons.

When the initial idea was rolled out at the time in late 2012 via a mixed religion group to include myself and another gay individual there was some resistance to it as the activity was a carry over from a major well funded church project for unemployed youth one of whom still is in this dispensation, several leaders at the time left the revamped project idea claiming they were not supporting the gay lifestyle, the market for landscaping was already saturated with several other players including lawn cutters from Kingston and nearby parishes and Portmore, breaking into the domain was difficult and several attempts were made via flyers, repeated personal visits by myself and the men in walk-a-bouts various housing schemes and so on. The slow rainfall as well added more delays in shrubbery and vegetation growth hence the slow demand for services/repeat visits and cuttings and as costs for the actual weed whacking machines also come down more middle class households purchase their own machines and do their own manicuring of their lawns and fence-hedging. Expansion to other parishes to include Kingston is in the works and also major sites such as office grounds, schools and playgrounds are being considered but a proper marketing/introductory strategy is needed and is being prepared such as an introductory letter and so forth. Due to a spate of robberies generally as well in certain communities that are lonely with no major pedestrian activity during the work hours on weekdays a couple neighbourhood watches have taken a no tolerance approach to “strange faces” in their communities so they refuse to engage new persons seeking business such as cutting lawns, selling newspapers or such peddling and one community actually instituted a gated arrangement with a guard to control movement in and out of the scheme thus limiting potential business for the men, this community though not so new has several wide lawn area that will require tending to and a formal approach is being strategized. The rotation of the machines amongst the project participants has caused some challenges as well as one or more whackers may be out for repairs thus leaving the designated user out of a machine hence no income or shortened time for those who have machines than normal which has caused some riffs and in-fighting between the participants in the project of which I have had to intervene.

No profiling or homo-negative challenges thus far

Thankfully due to the masculine aesthetics of the participants no major profiling has occurred, a concern I had prior to the rollout of the project/machines. The project coordinators outside of myself are still at odds as to the more effeminate counterparts of the men who are presently enrolled and what to develop for them is still a concern, those persons have sought shelter elsewhere with friends for now; the group that were evicted from a house in Sydenham some time ago are also still struggling and some of those persons when contacted on this project in the early days declined the initiation I presume on a premise of mistrust as others have approached the men/transgender persons before with false promises I am told hence their scepticism. An Aphrodite’s PRIDE Jamaica team member had suggested some sort of activity tailored to the female cisgender imperative such as make-up/beauty training and so on but the issue of stereotypical gender role boxing of the group has come up.

Rates as well have been affected due to some of the aforementioned challenges and competition, in order to stay in business average rates have fallen by some 20% average based on my calculations, for e.g. a typical front lawn (hedging not included as scissors are also needed, machetes alone won’t do) probably twenty five feet by thirty feet taking roughly fifteen to twenty minutes to whack could have fetched up to $1,800 now that has come down to $1,200 or less provided the cutter names his price at let’s say $1,500 then negotiates his way down to stay within the ball park. Gas prices have sky rocketed with rates from Petrojam going up weekly for the past eight weeks, a litre of gas now runs at $130/L and it takes 5 litres for the gallon which in turn serves one cutter one or two days depending on the frequency of jobs, the gas itself is also light as feather and burns off faster than normal despite the governing of the machines for maximum delivery per litre of gas. Unfair competition in my eyes as well is hurting business as weedsters from the government’s JEEP temporary employment program who weed-whack parks, medians and public spaces and who also are allowed to take home the govt owned machines are invading the private market as well thus diminishing business and with their more aggressive tactics some have gone as far as to use the local political and parish council representative as muscle to work their way into the market as they tell their people on the ground who in turn tell others. They while earning from their salaried contracts from JEEP are able to price down their services thus affecting market rates tremendously.

Such is the nature of business right now but the men have managed overall to eek out some small profits or break even in some instances. The psycho-social bit is also being examined and elements of the soon to be concluded Enterprise Training that I am apart of are being reviewed with modifications of course for this cohort; the men are also being encouraged to save as best as possible and consolidate on certain things such as food purchases and so on, two of the men are in fact in a long term relationship so their money management issues are a little better off than the others one of whom has a son from a previous opposite gender relationship. Encouragement has come from the mostly mixed Christian heterosexual group although the teething challenges were numerous they have settled and are now seemingly looking past sexual orientation although there is a push by at least one person for some type of reparative work and prayer for change. The Christmas treat held last year is still fresh in the men’s mind as there were new comers in the lot and the grocery packages though small are welcomed by them saving time and money to fetch such items on their own. My concern is to move them from just mere tokenism to more independent thinking and devising their own way to fend for themselves, the necessitated rotation of the machines has become a blessing in disguise as it has come to teach the men sharing and patience major tools in diligence building and the all important life-plan efficacious activity seems more eminent than before as the anger and resentment from being displaced slowly subsides. We are seeking a qualified professional with counselling expertise to do one on one work with them to move to the next step as the project becomes more formalised.

I had an idea to divert a few of them to a program on catering but it soon dawned on me that with independence it would have been difficult to ask them to make such a separation to non income status although the training would make them qualified and also the hours needed to seek business are also the same hours for classes so it would have been a catch 22 situation.

I am feeling a little better seeing some of the displaced and homeless MSM/Transgender persons are being addressed but it is in no way near the answers needed as others elsewhere on the island struggle with a myriad of issues. A community influential in Mandeville has recently taken on a few in his home for a short time while in St Ann an influential who was assisting some men there has given up due to the behavioural challenges and pilfering has caused him to discontinue any further assistance. I nearly got to that place as well after my own experience in July last year when I took in a youngster only to have to put him out three days after as he brought a sex buddy to my home without expressed permission or prior notification, such as the challenges with community based shelter assistance. That is precisely when several more privileged gay/bi persons do not assist separate and apart from the classism and snobbery that obtains in the our “community”

We are thinking of devising an aggressive fund raising activity incorporating various means, donations of cash and kind have been slowly kicking in from persons in the know of the project and I have sent over donations as well thanks to my donors via my blogs through Paypal online and a cheque recently delivered to me by a long time reader residing here of which we are grateful. Each one reach one as Babbie Mason would say in her song.

Peace and tolerance

H

also see:

Interfaith Group Pledges Continued Support for Homeless MSM in St Catherine

GLBTQ Jamaica in conjunction with several individuals and a church group hosted a treat and some words of encouragement for the brothers.

Homeless MSM populations treated over the Christmas season

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Young MSM/Transgender want to be treated as citizens not potential HIV/AIDS victims

More and more I seem to be coming across young gay, transgender and bisexual youth who feel weary it seems from the over supply of pinch leave an inch condoms, pamphlets and paraphernalia on safer sex and AIDS and other related materials as multiple agencies jostle to reach what has basically become the same cohort on the face of it of males for the most part in the quest for HIV prevention but where are the more meaningful outreach and interventions for holistic development and nurture?

Some in the know may say that funding is hardly available for those kinds of developmental work (which maybe true in a sense but still sounds more like an apology for slackness and maintaining the old status quo) and indeed the more cynical would go as far as to say it is not the agencies involved best interest to do or offer such meaningful interventions as that will diminish their cohort of potential service users and thus nothing to report hence no need to prepare programs only to seek future funds, after all agencies exist to supposedly help but how many persons are actually being helped or impressive success stories to prove same while old narratives are still being used to suggest that gay/bi men do not have access to safer sex implements which is a lie.

CVM Newscast of the Cargill Avenue eviction where the truckmen/movers found and commented on the condoms they found
CVM Newscast of the Cargill Avenue eviction where the truckmen/movers found and commented on the condoms they found

also see: Homeless MSM/Trans youth draw attention in New Kingston

Homeless MSM having their version of fun recently by the infamous Gully nearing  the Island Car Rentals office
Homeless MSM having their version of fun recently by the infamous Gully nearing the Island Car Rentals office
From the Millsborough Avenue embarrasing eviction of some of the homeless MSM/Trans persons last year, condom wrapper is clearly visible
From the Millsborough Avenue embarrassing eviction of some of the homeless MSM/Trans persons last year, condom wrapper is clearly visible
More condom wrappers indicating that the men are only seen as HIV Prevention targets, what about other developmental work?
More condom wrappers indicating that the men are only seen as HIV Prevention targets, what about other developmental work?

The complaints and reports still come almost on a monthly basis these days of some homo-negative outcome somewhere on the island and the phone calls of requests for money or some form of assistance are growing in frequency too as economic issues abound. There agencies that run and managed by powerful gay persons who have the clout to solves this long standing matter of displacements seeing we have both hard and anecdotal evidence that tells us in no uncertain terms that those are visible consequences of stigma, homophobia and homo-negativity.

Take for example this flashback: UNIMPRESSED WITH THE CVM TV SHOW ON MSM HOMELESSNESS

The September 6th 2012 appearance of representatives from The National Council of Drug Abuse and AIDSFREEWORLD’s Maurice Tomlinson to address the recent public eviction of homeless MSM from Cargill Avenue was at best damage control to another embarrassment regarding the poor response from the relevant LGBT agencies. JFLAG WAS NOT PRESENT AT THIS CVM TV LIVE @ SEVEN Program The attempt to use old programmatic language by Maurice Tomlinson to suggest MSM have no access to condoms while the CVM newscast itself showed the movers holding the condoms in their hands they found on the site and saying the men were practising safer sex should be instructive to ALL in view.

Young gay men as indicated above are also becoming weary of the way they are viewed despite the aforementioned concerns in a group session over the past week some young men some of whom were teetering on homelessness were invited to a meeting called by a community influential who is concerned about the numbers of them on the streets mostly from Kingston, Portmore and Spanish Town (excluding the five who are helped by a church/LGBTQ group in an ongoing weed whacking project) where they aired some issues they had it was instructive that some of them had a barrage of condoms on their person and laughed at the exposure of them as they accidentally fell from a bag of one of the attendees. He joked “All dem do a full mi up wid boots” (all they do is full me up with condoms) “boots” is the colloquial expression for condoms but something happened after the initial laughter died down as it seems the realization that they were having trouble finding permanent shelter or other crisis issues ongoing were real and that “boots” cannot be a solution whenever they are met by the various outreach teams as part of the HIV prevention strategy. The homeless men for example who have been making the news in New Kingston have been receiving food items once a week but is that enough? They too have had loads of condoms thrown at them as we have seen repeatedly on the television newscasts and other videos covering them. What about the deeper issues and personal concerns they have. The men in the meeting of which I was present were asked to fill out a random list of what they require and their lists read as a call for items and things you and I may have probably not considered important as we enjoy those amenities or interactions on a daily basis and indeed take them for granted. The simple lament by the boots carrying man screams far more than just the obvious since they fell in such a great numbers, one could easily count thirty or so. The conversation continued after the list creation exercise and what came out was a stunner to me despite my knowledge of how some persons feel about the whole scenario as older displaced men in time have echoed a similar sentiment with some level of frustration.

The ideal scenario would be a meeting place for group session and support meetings

Steady supply of food cooked or uncooked

Shelter and some sort of transitional living program towards independence

Educational or skills building opportunities

Guidance on developing and executing life plans through self efficacious activity not just limited to HIV prevention

Exploring the arts and possible skills linked to cross dressing aesthetics and affinity to cosmetics (drag culture, forced feminization and female cisgenderistic presentations for male to female transgender persons in the group)

But by the sound of the lament and the subsequent tete a tete the men are not satisfied; theirs is a perception that more privileged homosexuals control tons of money in funding and that the money is being spent on non essential things such as court cases, fat cat salaries and perks while persons who are on the lower socio totem pole are just relegated to being “victims” or service users and nothing more, doomed to get HIV (if they do not have it already) or waiting to die. Such were the tones in the ensuing discourse. Recent history has unfortunately given some credence to these perceptions as feelings of abandonment of the aforementioned homeless men in New Kingston still linger from the repeated news headlines, shenanigans and police interventions of that population and believe me word travels whenever there is any such occurrences. The men in the long and short of it want to be seen as human beings that deserve respect as one older person claims that there is favouritism as well in how interventions are carried out by some agencies and their representatives. Why are some powerful advocates and personalities in HIV/MSM prevention in particular refusing to go this route of real life changing intervention rollouts is still not clear to some, the departure of a Board Chair of Jamaica AIDS Support for Life also has not gone down so comfortably with myself and others as her stance on homelessness was supportive for the most part despite the run-ins with the men and the stoning incidents on their former offices at Upper Musgrave Avenue yet by the soundings out there one particular former chair but who still sits on the bench has been haggling against any such proactive moves to address homelessness which does not surprise me as he was the chair when the Safe House Pilot was closed with no psycho-social interventions allowed to stop the “bad behaviour” that was used a justification to take such final actions on a needed project.

My part in the whole affair however was to offer some encouragement to the lads in the scheme of things especially owing to the fact that one of the men’s friends was hospitalised recently for a brief illness but how can words heal when the real life toughness abounds and affect their present reality? Then we turn around and wonder why the anti social behaviours are happening when it is obviously clear to those looking that such are only means to an end to forget if only for a fleeting moment the worries of the hour. It is also interesting that as a group the men are indeed “rowdy” (word used by voices in the gay lobby to describe them also “maladjusted miscreants” showing the elitist side to this) but as individuals is it amazing what comes flying out of them in a one on one session discussing real life matters yet they are for all intents and purposes made to become martyrs in a sense for a cause that they might not have subscribed to in ordinary circumstances when asked to do so. Leaving them out in the cold for so long seems unethical on the face of it then allowing the numbers to reach levels where they can be used and paraded as “concerned” advocates make themselves look good in coming to their rescue. We are not fooled by the deception but let us see how long the using will take place and if really any proper productive end will come of the recently announced shelter idea, yet another one.

Some indigenous groups such as the aforementioned St Catherine weed whacking project group, Colour Pink (aligned to the aforementioned JASL) and Aphrodite’s PRIDE Jamaica of which I am performing Outreach and Facilitation duties for their Enterprise Training Project for more stable formerly displaced MSM/Trans and Lesbian individuals are addressing in their own way psycho-social issues and other concerns such as jobs and education development but we know where some of the blame of all this lies at the feet of these same agencies who only do enough to look as if they are addressing some issues but not with a view to adequately address what they take on only for the interventions to last out for experts have jobs it seems. Others seem more interested in media whoring possibly to satisfy a narcissistic complex at the expense of the least amongst us and then we wonder why we are here with an exploding displaced and homeless grouping and advocacy in limbo in the face of steady HIV/AIDS infection rates in the MSM cohort.

The APJ training for example we stay far away as a possible from an over preponderance of HIV messaging and instead go for positive reinforcement in terms of identity, coming out and so on.

Some things to think about but who is brave enough to say it openly when their snouts are in the troughs?

Integrity in advocacy anyone?

Peace and tolerance

H