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Cop proposes shelter for gay homeless men

BY KIMBERLY HIBBERT Sunday Observer staff reporter hibbertk@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, July 27, 2014    

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A senior police officer has proposed the establishment of a shelter where homeless gay men in New Kingston can access medication, psychological evaluation, counselling and skills training.

Commanding officer for the New Kingston Police, Deputy Superintendent Christopher Murdock, made the suggestion at a meeting last Thursday attended by residents of communities in New Kingston, some of the homeless young men, business operators in the financial district, and representatives of interest groups, including the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA).

The meeting, arranged by Government parliamentarian Julian Robinson, whose constituency includes the affected area, was called in an effort to address problems being experienced by residents and business owners in relation to the behaviour of the homeless gay men.

Police say they have received reports of murder, wounding, robbery, car break-ins, house break-ins, malicious destruction of property, one case of shooting, simple larceny, and assault occasioning bodily harm, most of which they have attributed to the young men who live in the Shoemaker gully on Trafalgar Road.

"The fact that you are homosexuals doesn't mean that the behaviour has to be bad," Murdock told the homeless men attending the meeting.

But one woman suggested to Murdock that he needed to accept the fact that because the young men are thrown out of their homes, "they learn street culture".

Until that reality is recognised and accepted, "we are going to always have this problem of finding the solution, because they are going to develop the behaviour to survive on the streets", she said.

But Murdock, in his defence, said that other homeless men are not indulging in acts of criminality.

"Whilst we are mindful of the sexual orientation and the issues surrounding that, we don't want to come to the meeting with that because we have other street boys and they do not give us the problem that we are having with these ones," he said.

However, Murdock's shelter proposal was questioned by Jermaine Burton, founder of the group Colour Pink.

"You have come up with the idea of a shelter, but how have you reached a shelter, because you guys have been on the issue of the shelter... that is like reinventing the wheel from how long," he said.

"The culture itself doesn't create an enabling environment to really go and get a shelter as well. If you put up a shelter and people know that this is a shelter [for homosexuals]... it is more problems," Burton said.

But Robinson quickly clarified the purpose of the shelter, saying that it would be a place for sustainable development.

"It's not a home for you to carry on your activities," said the MP. "So when you think of a shelter, don't think of a shelter for persons to carry on homosexual activities. The shelter we're looking at is a centre where persons can get home training and skills training.

"There are quite a number of persons living there (in the gully) now who don't even have a birth certificate, who have no form of identification, no skills training, no educational qualifications. The centre is to create that, not an area where you are going to say okay, this is where you are going to be carrying on with your sexual activities and carrying on with your lewd behaviour, which is associated with the group where they come out onto the streets, they strip themselves, they gyrate... that's not what we're about," he stated.

Burton, however, asked: "Is this what the community wants? You don't ask the community what they want, yet still you put up that they want a shelter?"

However, Superintendent of Police Fitz Bailey quickly interjected, saying that for years people have been fed up with the behaviour of the young men, and the shelter was the solution.

"All of us are here because we are frustrated and we want a solution, so I have devoted more time than others in sessions trying to come up with a solution, and that would be the ideal thing," Bailey said.

One resident, who expressed frustration with the behaviour of the homeless men, said education would be one of the first steps to finding a remedy.

"First and foremost, we need to educate the persons and their families about their lifestyle. In Jamaica every family has at least one person who is gay. I have gay family members and for years we did not know," she said, adding that when they found out, they did not put them out on the streets.

"I agree with the approach to create a centre and educate these people to let them know if you want to be accepted into society, don't go about behaving like this, as you're only making the situation worse by putting yourselves out there. Your behaviour should be confined to your bedroom and your private quarters, nobody has to know," she said.

The health risks associated with the young men living in the gully were also raised at the meeting which heard that they cook, eat and defecate there.

As the meeting progressed, the idea of the shelter seemed to have gained a bit of support, but even then the question of who would be responsible for getting it established was raised.

"If we could convince members of the civic coalition and those who are spending millions on security to help, we could go a far way," said Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays President Dane Lewis.

"We have to have land, pay people who are going to come and look after health care and other benefits. We've had enough of these sessions; we need to come to a solution," Lewis added.

A female participant felt it was the Government's responsibility.

"The Government has to lead on this. We have had donors give us money and we cannot get the support from communities in society to do this. We have had to give back a $9-million grant because we couldn't find a place. If the Government leads, we will be willing to support in whatever way using our own resources such as representatives from the Ministry of Health and from among those working with the group for quite some time," she said.

Robinson said that he would help to source the land for the shelter, while Murdock asked for a small group to be committed to leading the charge.

A representative from the NCDA and one from the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition gave their commitment to assist, once proper funding was in place and the Government decided to lead the charge beyond providing land.

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