Trump's been silent; Putin's shrugged it off. But you should care about Chechnya.

Chechnya wants to 'eliminate' its gay population by the end of May. We can't sit back and watch.

If you've found it difficult to engage with the horrifying news coming out of Chechnya regarding the arrests and abuses of queer men there, you're not alone.

When the reports first began surfacing, it seemed too awful to be true — we're in the era of "fake news," after all. Was this actually happening?

A rally in Paris was held in support of gay and bisexual Chechen men on April 20, 2017. Photo by Sipa/AP.


Some of us found ourselves hoping the reports were false or greatly exaggerated, designed to press our outrage buttons. But these were stories coming out of outlets like The New York Times, CNN, and The Washington Post — all reporting that men in Chechnya are quietly being round up like cattle and starved, beaten, and tortured in facilities comparable to Nazi concentration camps. It quickly became clear that these ongoing atrocities were not fake.

Feelings of helplessness started creeping in. This wasn't a story propped up by bombastic headlines begging for sympathetic clicks from bleeding heart liberals.

This news was — and is — terrifyingly real.

Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov. Photo by Said Tzarnaev/Sputnik/AP.

Feeling outraged comes easily. Feeling helpless, however, makes it hard to know the best way to channel that energy.

We know there have been at least six prisons created in Chechnya, which is a republic of Russia, to secretly detain men with "nontraditional" sexual practices. We also know that Chechnya allegedly plans to "eliminate" its gay community by the start of Ramadan on May 26 — just one month away.

This isn't normal. It's terrifying. And unfortunately, it seems like it's become more difficult to rely on world leaders to step up to the plate on their own volition. Rather than speak out against what’s happening in Chechnya, President Donald Trump tweeted about Hillary Clinton's hypothetical polling numbers. Russia's President Vladimir Putin shrugged off the allegations of mass arrests and abuse while he posed for a photo with Chechnya's President Ramzan Kadyrov on April 19.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) shakes hands with Chechnya's Ramzan Kadyrov in Moscow on April 19, 2017. Photo by Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool/AP.

With so many people in power ignoring these blatant crimes against humanity, the feelings of helplessness are hard to shake.

But if Kadyrov seriously believes that simply denying that gay and bisexual men exist in Chechnya means he can carry out these sorts of atrocities without the outside world noticing — with our free press, internet access, and determination to mobilize — he’s got another thing coming.

Photo by Patrizia Cortellessa/Pacific Press/Sipa/AP.

This is what you can do this very moment to help gay and bi men in Chechnya at risk of arrest and abuse.

1. You can sign this petition by advocacy group OutRight calling on energy companies Exxon, BP, and Shell — all of which have huge sway in Russian politics — to speak up about the injustices being committed in Chechnya.

2. You can donate to the Russian LGBT Network, an equality group that's opened a refuge center in Moscow for queer Chechens escaping persecution. While Russia, in general, may be an unwelcoming place for LGBTQ people, Moscow is a much safer place than Chechnya for gay and bi men in the short term.

3. As OutRight's calling on us to do, you can share photos and messages demanding an end to these atrocities on Instagram — and troll Kadyrov by tagging his account (@kadyrov_95) in the captions, further drawing attention to his actions.

4. You can call your representatives in Congress and demand they speak up (as Marco Rubio recently did).

5. Most importantly: You can refuse to stay silent.

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Brian Olesen never imagined he would end up homeless.

The former U.S. Air Force medic had led a full and active life, complete with a long career in the medical field, a 20-year marriage, and a love of anything aquatic. But after hip surgery and chronic back pain left him disabled in 2013, he lost his ability to work. Due to changes in eligibility requirements, he couldn't qualify for federal veteran housing programs. His back issues were difficult to prove medically, so he didn't qualify for disability. Though he'd worked his whole life, having no income for five years took its toll. He got evicted from a couple of apartments and found himself living on the streets.

But in 2018, two things completely turned Olesen's life around. He was able to both qualify for disability and to move into an affordable housing community in Miami's Goulds neighborhood called Karis Village.

When people think of affordable housing, they don't usually picture a place like Karis Village. The 88-unit development is brand new, and built with an attention to design that is not always expected for developments that serve as home to people on limited incomes. The apartments have tile floors, marble countertops, and all new appliances and furniture, and the grounds are beautiful and well-kept, with a playground and common areas for residents to gather.

Brian Olesen in his kitchen at Karis VillageCapital One

Karis Village isn't just a housing development; it's a home and a community. Half of the units are set aside for veterans who have experienced homelessness, like Olesen. The other half are largely occupied by single-parent families.

"To me, this building was just a gift," says Olesen. "All of the different parties that got together to put this building together… making half the building available to veterans. We've got no place to go."

Addressing veteran homelessness was one of the goals of Karis Village, which was built through a partnership that included Carrfour Supportive Housing — a mission-driven, not-for-profit affordable housing organization in southern Florida — and Capital One's Community Finance team. More than just an affordable place to live, the community has full-time staff on hand to help coordinate services—from addiction recovery programs to transportation options to job search and placement. Also included are peer counselors who provide emotional and psychological support for residents.

Karis Village, an affordable housing community in Miami, Florida.Capital One

Carrfour President and CEO Stephanie Berman says the core function of the services team on site is to build a supportive community.

"Often when you think of folks leaving homelessness and coming into housing, you think of shelters or some kind of traditional housing," she says. "You don't really think about a community, and that's really what we build and what we operate. What we're really striving to create is community. We find that our families thrive when you create a sense of community."

The intention to create a supportive community at Karis Village was a priority from the get go. Fabian Ramirez, a Capital Officer on Capital One's Community Finance team, says the bank did a listening tour in southern Florida to explore community development and affordable housing options in the area and to hear what was most needed. After deciding to partner with Carrfour, the bank provided not only an $8 million construction loan and a $25 million low income housing tax credit (LIHTC) investment to help build Karis Village, but it also kicked in a $250,000 social purpose grant to help fund the social support services that would be put in place for residents.

"It's not just all about providing the brick and mortar," says Ramirez. "It's about being able to contribute to the sustainability of the development and of the lives of the people who move into the building."


Capital One

Olesen says he and his fellow residents benefit greatly from the network of support services offered in the building. He says a counselor comes to meet with him once a month, sometimes right in his apartment. He also gets help maintaining a connection with the Veteran Affairs office. Other services include social workers and counselors for drug addiction and alcoholism.

Olesen loves being around other veterans, and he says hearing the sound of children playing keeps the community lively. He says anywhere else he could afford to live on disability wouldn't be nearly as nice and would likely involve shared kitchens and bathrooms and neighborhoods you wouldn't want to go out in at night.

If it weren't for Karis Village, Olesen says he doesn't know where he would be today: "I had nowhere to go and this is a safe, beautiful place to spend my retirement."

"I don't think they could have done a much better job of putting this place together and supplying us with what we need," he says. "I have so much appreciation for the ability to have a place to live. And then you add to that that it's beautiful and completely furnished and you didn't need to bring anything—I don't know what more you could ask for."

Karis Village and another development for veterans built the same year enabled the neighborhood of Goulds to meet the requirements set forth by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to declare an end to veteran homelessness in the area.

Ending veteran homelessness altogether is a complex task, but communities like Karis Village show how it can be done—and done well. When government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporate funding programs come together to solve big problems, big solutions can be built and maintained.

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