"Street youths proved more tolerant of homosexuals. A quarter (25 per cent) of the street youths interviewed indicated that they had friends who were homosexuals, compared to 11 per cent of youths in households," said senior statistician in the STATIN's surveys division Leesha Delatie-Budair, as she revealed the summary of findings of the study recently.
The 2010 JNYS, the first survey of its kind in Jamaica focusing on street youth, was conducted by STATIN in association with the National Centre for Youth Development (NCYD) and the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture. The research and data collection was sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank and the Jamaican government.
Two types of street youths were interviewed -- youths of the street (street-wise), and youths on the street (homeless).
Between 150-200 youths from ten parishes across the island were polled, most of them between the ages of 15 - 24 years who were from cluster areas or street corners where youths normally congregate, or who were living, eating, working on the streets and were detached from households. These youngsters were found on the roadsides, bus stations, parks, abandoned houses and other public places.
A total of 5,426 youths participated in the 2010 JNYS including 2,726 females (50.2 per cent).
Delatie-Budair also noted that in addition to admitting to having friends who were homosexual, the street youths surveyed were just generally more accepting of the lifestyle.
"In relation to accepting friends who were homosexuals, 31 per cent of the street youths indicated that they would, compared to 25 per cent of youths in households," she said.
Of those youth who had homes, the survey said, "When respondents were asked if they had friends who were homosexual, approximately 85 per cent said "No" and 11 per cent said "Yes"."
It went further to report on the reactions of youth in households.
"When asked if they would accept a friend who is homosexual, the majority (68 per cent) said they would not accept a friend who is a homosexual, while 25 per cent stated that they would accept such a friend."
Director of NCYD, Roberta Brown-Ellis, emphasised that although more street youths proved more tolerant of homosexuals, there is no evidence from the JNYS to brand them as homosexuals.
"The survey did not speak to the issue of them engaging in homosexual activities. So I don't believe the street youths that responded were engaging in homosexual activities," Brown-Ellis told the Sunday Observer in a recent interview.
"I believe street youths were more tolerant of homosexuality than household youths because they are more exposed to the realities of life. They are on the streets more often and, by virtue of that, they have become more open-minded and tolerant," Brown-Ellis added.
NCYD, the organisation that Brown-Ellis heads, is the arm of the Ministry of Youth, Sports & Culture that executes the National Youth Policy through its various programmes and initiatives. The NCYD is responsible for implementing and overseeing the JNYS and will use the survey's findings to inform the revision of the current youth policy.
Gender specialist, Danielle Toppin, is in agreement with Brown-Ellis. She says that street youths are more widely exposed than youngsters who enjoy the comforts of a stable home, hence the responses they gave in the survey.
"I think there are a number of dynamics that could be at play. It could be that the issue of survival would lead greater numbers of street youths to engage in sexual activity, both heterosexual and same-sex for money, rather than a child whose material needs are met by parents or guardians," Toppin said.
Toppin currently works with Sistren Theatre Collective -- a non-governmental group that serves the inner-city communities of Allman Town, Fletcher's Land, Hannah Town, Barbican/Grants Pen, Rockfort, Parade Gardens and Tivoli -- communities whose youths have a vast knowledge and understanding of the streets.
However, the experts feel it is not unlikely, that given their greater tolerance of homosexuality, these youths could adopt the homosexual or bisexual lifestyle, especially if they are pressured to sell their bodies for economic reasons.
Brown-Ellis said that to prevent them falling prey to this, the challenges facing the country's homeless youth should be aggressively tackled.
"We need to create preventative programmes with opportunities to empower the street youths. Those programmes need to be more tailored and designed, unlike programmes for household youths. We need to find their parents and get them off the streets. We have to look at their literacy levels and how they currently earn an income," she added.
Toppin said that there needs to be greater cohesion of programmes between governmental and non-governmental groups that cater to the needs of not just street youths, but youths on the whole.
"Street children are preyed upon by adults -- male and female, gay and straight. They (sexual predators) use power to take advantage of children. That is a crime, no matter who is doing it and whom they are doing it to," Toppin said.
The JNYS was conducted to highlight the economic and social condition of Jamaican youths. Its findings will inform the revision of the existing youth policy as regards health, education, training, employment, entrepreneurial opportunities, participation and empowerment, care, protection and living environments.
STATIN, in association with the NCYD and the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture will host a series of workshops to address the findings and challenges presented by the survey.