Americas

Jamaica: LGBT youths can’t even call a gully their home

Youth walks through Shoemaker Gully before it was sealed shut after a raid on Dec. 23, 2014. (Photo courtesy of LoopJamaica.com)

Youth walks through Shoemaker Gully before it was sealed shut after a raid on Dec. 23, 2014. (Photo courtesy of LoopJamaica.com)

Jamaican activists who balk at the idea of forcing LGBT youths to live on the streets are trying to find a feasible alternative now that police have ousted dozens of youths from Shoemaker Gully, a drainage channel in New Kingston.

The youths had lived in that gully for two years after being expelled from their homes for being gay, then rousted out of abandoned buildings. Police have repeatedly raided the gully — most recently just before Christmas. Again and again, the youths were arrested, warned, released and then allowed to return to their only home — the gully.

At Christmastime 2014, however, the gully was sealed so they could not return to it.

Activist Yvonne McCalla Sobers, former head of the Dwayne’s House initiative that sought to build a shelter and training center for the youths, stated:

Homeless LGBT youths sleeping in Jamaican sewers. (Photo courtesy of Micheal Forbes)

Homeless LGBT youths sleeping in New Kingston drainage channel known as Shoemaker Gully — before they were forced out on Dec. 23. (Photo courtesy of Micheal Forbes)

The youth are today in a worse situation than they were last month, last year, or even the year before that. Shoemaker Gully, “home” to the youth since the latter part of 2012, has been sealed off and made inaccessible to them.

They have been set adrift in a city that is unfriendly to the homeless in general, and particularly hostile to homeless persons who are gay or trans*. So they sleep where they can and how they can, hoping to remain undetected by police or civilians. Providing them with any kind of support has become challenging because there is no longer a central location at which they can be found.

The local police superintendent has proposed establishing a shelter where the youths could be housed and trained for gainful employment, as have the advocates who are raising money to open such a shelter under the name of Dwayne’s House. But nothing has yet come of those plans.

Activists and the news media presented vastly different version of the Dec. 23 raid.  RJR News Online reported:

New Kingston police Senior Supt. Fitz Bailey

New Kingston police Senior Supt. Fitz Bailey

“Senior Superintendent Fitz Bailey, Head of  the Police Division, told RJR news that the operation targeted suspects linked to major crimes, including murders committed in and around New Kingston. Several persons were detained by the police during the operation.

“He said 40 to 60 individuals had sought refuge in the gully, and that New Kingston residents were fed up with the situation.

” ‘They have been wreaking havoc on the business district, in terms of their involvement in criminal activities, from robbery, larceny, burglary, and even two murders. The citizens and business people have really been intimidated and they have exhibited a level of frustration,’ he explained.

“He said a multi-agency approach will continue to be used, as the police are determined to drive criminals out of  New Kingston.”

In contrast, McCalla Sobers said:

“In the December 23 arrest of ten of the youth, the police said these youth were to be questioned for serious crimes. However, the only youth in the group who was on the police wanted list was able to scale a wall and escape from the lockup; and the other youth were released within hours of their being held. “

She added:

Scene from police raid on LGBT youth in Shoemaker Gully in March 2014. (Click image for video.)

Scene from police raid on LGBT youth in Shoemaker Gully in March 2014. (Click image for video.)

“The claim can now be made that New Kingston is safe with the removal of these youth who are seen as criminals. Now. there are thieves who have taken refuge in the gully; this is a known minority for whom the majority invariably takes the blame.

“In the time of my close association with the youth, the usual policing practice was to make a periodic show of force, detaining eight to ten of the youth at a time. Media would be present, and the impression would be given that the police were being tough on crime in New Kingston. However, most of the detainees would be released, some within hours. The remainder would be charged with minor offences such as littering, loitering, or ‘calumnious language.’

“The police have a list of the youth whom they say are ‘wanted.’  The other youth in the gully have tried, without success, to persuade those committing the crimes to cease the theft or leave the gully. The youth point out that the alleged offenders invariably escape while non-offenders are arrested and harassed before being released.

“Recently, some of the youth confronted the most-wanted person on the police list who had once again taken refuge in the gully after committing a serious offence. There was an altercation in which the most-wanted man stabbed one of the youth just before police arrived on the scene. The police allegedly stood by as this most-wanted man stabbed the youth three more times. As this youth lay bleeding on the ground, the others in the gully [allegedly] appealed to the police for help, to no avail. Ultimately, the injured youth was taken to hospital by another set of police who came on the scene. The most-wanted man [allegedly] stood by with the bloody knife, and no attempt was made to arrest him.”

What’s next? McCalla Sobers said:

“There has been some movement toward finding shelter for these youth. The Member of Parliament representing the New Kingston area has identified a space deemed suitable for housing these youth. An entity has allegedly offered to provide funds for setting up this shelter, but these funds would not be available until mid-year if the promise is fulfilled.”

Dane Lewis, executive director of J-FLAG

Dane Lewis, executive director of J-FLAG

Dane Lewis, executive director of the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), has asked Jamaicans to be more compassionate toward the homeless youths, who he feels have been marginalized and are victims of a hostile society. J-FLAG has urged stronger action by members of parliament to  solve the problem of homeless LGBT youths.

Activist Maurice Tomlinson said that a recent Home 4 the Holidays campaign  raised only about $10,000 Canadian dollars [US$8,500] plus about US$900 for a shelter for the youths — far less than the US$350,000 that was estimated as needed for the proposed purchase.

McCalla Sobers added:

“The current perspective of the youth is that they have risked their safety by showing their faces on multiple documentaries in the hope that the publicity would help them to find stability in their lives. They need tangible evidence to show they are not being abandoned and neglected yet again. Help for these youth cannot come soon enough in 2015. “

Easter dinner for homeless LGBT youths in Jamaica. (Photo courtesy of Yvonne McCalla-Sobers)

In April 2014, supporters donated Easter dinner to homeless LGBT youths living in Shoemaker Gully. (Photo courtesy of Yvonne McCalla Sobers)

This article was revised on Jan. 6 to correct the name of the recent fund drive, Home 4 the Holidays.

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