The displacement of persons is a problem common to many countries of the world including developed nations such as Canada, France, the UK and the US. In 2005 the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing – Miloon Kothari – reported that over 100 million people were homeless worldwide. As a small island developing state Jamaica suffers from a severe lack of resources often spent on band-aid solutions to our socioeconomic problems.
The pintsized respect for minority populations in Jamaica is at best depressing for well-thinking individuals. We have a nauseating culture of teasing, mistreating and bullying persons who are different in one form or another, and the state has failed miserably in its handling of the economically and socially vulnerable. This has given rise to civil groups, lobby groups and non-governmental organisations. These organisations try to fill the large gaps that result from state neglect. Some organisations do not have the capacity and/or resources to effectively fill these gaps, so the economically challenged has been forced to take matters in their own hands, create their own states and social nets in an attempt to navigate their way out of poverty and social derision.
Homelessness is a social problem that has plagued Jamaica for several decades. Our treatment of homeless persons leaves much to be desired; we regard them as decadent members of society to be dumped near mud lakes or transferred in Holocaust fashion away from tourist, upper class spaces into non-tourist middle and lower class spaces. I recently read a few articles from the Jamaica Observer, which revealed a certain debasing characterisation of this minority population as “uncontrollable”, “outlandish” and of which some residents were “disgusted”.
Further, when I examine the academic literature (Elliot: 2010, Georgetown Law Human Rights Institute: 2012, Charles: 2012) on deported migrants for example, I find upon their return home, because of the discrimination and shaming associated with their “deportee” status they end up being homeless, moneyless, jobless and defenceless. The state has abandoned these persons so it should be no surprise that individuals who are displaced because of their “abominable” sexuality and gender non-conforming persona, experience this bane of homelessness and neglect.
The plight of homeless LGBT persons is exacerbated by the abuse, assault, battery and murder that have become characteristic of being LGBT in Jamaica. And let me just point out that homelessness among the LGBT population is not limited to the poor. Our culturally-guided and Christianity-inspired homophobia cuts across all social classes; no one is exempt from being homeless or displaced. While those who are closer to being economically and socially affluent, will, more often than not find it reasonably easy to relocate or “kotch” with friends from time to time, this does not change the fact that they are evicted because of homophobia. The circumstances for those without such wealth are worse – they become intermittent residents of abandoned buildings, bus stops and the streets.
This is one problem I wish I could commission Professor Albus Dumbledore to resolve. It frustrates my existence to live each day beleaguered by the knowledge that some members of my community have to pray to God at nights on cardboard, concrete, tar, or blocks of sponge before going to sleep. My cerebral cortex will soon explode from attempts at engineering a plan that will address this social phenomenon. I recently had discussions with a dear friend of mine who shares this passion and we have come up with a very skeletal crude idea that I hope will evolve into something practical and workable.
The following paragraphs are the result of such discussions with Rochelle McFee…
We are perturbed by the disregard of the nation as a whole in how we present, represent and engage displaced LGBT persons. We must find a way to engage in a process of resocialisation for the displaced, create safe houses where they may reside temporarily until they are united with “new” sensitised families that understand their nuanced, precarious position. During their stay at the safe house (which will be monitored and managed by formerly homeless LGBT individuals), our displaced persons should engage in skills training on the premises or at educational institutions, counselling, experience sharing workshops and civic education on a daily basis, as part of a much needed resocialisation programme. Some persons, depending on their age may qualify for the Career Advancement Programme recently instituted by the GoJ.
The safe house is the first critical space since this is where skills will be learnt or harnessed. After this intensive skills training education programme, participants will, for a 2-3 months period, provide volunteer service to participating businesses and/or organisations. The purpose of this is to provide experience, develop professionalism, foster relationships, and improve time management skills while embracing civic duty. During this period we recommend the welcome of participants in their respective new families. Parents and other family members of these persons should be engaged (if they are willing) and reunited, if possible, with their loved ones. If reunion is not possible, then the sensitised families mentioned above will become their new home until they are able to provide for themselves economically.
Additional lobby efforts will be required to place participants in salary-paying jobs in order to facilitate economic independence and create space for others. A written commitment to dedicate their time to the sustainability of the project may be encouraged. A virtual crisis management centre should also be created (until a physical one can be located) for all participants and past participants to air grouses, share ideas and experiences, and resolve any problems that may arise. We must point out that before such a project is undertaken, it is best to locate and sensitize the supporting families and places of employment needed for the initialisation of the project, which is especially crucial for sustenance. Will somebody please tell us this is doable and lend their expertise and resources . . . ???
We are of the belief that homelessness is a social problem to be addressed by the GoJ. But the GoJ is not doing enough so we must find creative and effective ways of engaging corporate Jamaica perhaps in partnership with the government and civil society. We need focus group discussions and evidenced-based perspectives on this issue to more persuasively implore those with the resources to help in meaningful ways.
As far as I’m concerned the streets should never be called home. Adequate housing is a human right!