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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Author: GLBTQ Jamaica Moderator

Activist and concerned gay man in Jamaica with over 19 years experience in advocacy and HIV/AIDS prevention work, LGBT DJ since 1996.

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