Last week, a rainbow-hued pride flag outside the First Lutheran Church in Albany, the temporary home of the Albany Damien Center, was set ablaze. While plans are underway to replace that flag – in an effort to show that the Damien Center and its mission to help those with HIV and AIDS in the Capital District is stronger than bigotry-based vulgarities – there is a bigger issue at hand.
What about the next time?
In a perfect world, the Damien Center wouldn’t have to worry about attacks and vandalism like this. But what about the next time? Obviously the Center needs some sort of deterrent, some way of monitoring and chronicling hate-fueled vandalism against their location and their mission.
With that in mind, the Damien Center has set up a page for donations for a new video surveillance system.
I’ll let the director of the Damien Center, Perry Junjulas, share his words now.
The Damien Center is asking for help in funding a video security system for our present location at the First Lutheran Church in Albany NY and our site in Schenectady NY. If we can raise enough funds, we also can increase our plans for a much better video security system at our new Center, which will be under construction shortly just down the street and completed around August 2017.
The City of Albany Police Detective Division and the FBI recommended to us that a video surveillance system would greatly aid in deterring future issues. They have offered to help us with a referral to a company that they use. We strongly feel that this will add to creating a safe space for our members living with HIV/AIDS and those who are also LGBT we serve, who depend on us to provide a comfortable drop-in center (with services including meals, support, housing, pet assistance, access to care, and other health-enriching services) 5 days a week.
We had a video system at our old Damien Center before it burned down, and we did find it was both a deterrent to issues and assisted us when we had problems of identifying who was responsible.
Unfortunately, we are no strangers to vandalism and hate, where the stigma and discrimination of having HIV/AIDS and being LGBT still sadly exists and rears its hatred in acts toward others. We often do not publicize these events out of respect for the person affected, but this time we could not be silent and continue to be thankful that no one was hurt.
We wanted to install a video system here prior to this, but did not have the funds to do so (funding for meals and other critical support services always came first). Since we will be here at this location for one more year until the new Center is built, we feel it is now important to have this system installed as soon as possible.
In the plans for building our new Center, we also now realize we will need to increase our plans for video security and lighting, as we will be open 24/7 with our new apartments for homeless persons with AIDS connected to the Damien Center community center.
The LGBT flag on the front lawn of The Albany Damien Center’s temporary home at the First Lutheran Church was set on fire sometime between 9 PM Wed evening June 22, 2016 and 9 AM Thurs morning June 23. Less than two weeks since the tragedy in Orlando, this vandalism was especially disheartening to our local LGBT and AIDS community that we serve. Leaders in Albany quickly labeled this a hate crime and the local community has spoken loudly that this type of hate and vandalism is not okay. The Capital Area Council of Churches led by Deb Riitano, also located in the building and operates an overflow homeless shelter, was quick to convene local faith leaders in showing support and the First Lutheran Church has offered statements of support on their Facebook page.
The person(s) responsible have not been found and the Albany Police Detective Division are asking anyone with information to contact them at 518-462-8039. ROCKS Nightclub, our local LBGT nightclub, has stepped up to the plate to help by offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of whomever is responsible for this act of hate against our community.
We are determined to continue our Damien Center services without interruption, yet we want to feel safe again. Thus, we are asking for your help. All funds raised in excess of the new video systems will go to directly help persons living with HIV/AIDS who are LGBT served by the Damien Center.
This is important. And if you want to show your support for the Damien Center and all that it does, and you’re looking for a way to send a message that acts of hate and vandalism and bigotry against the LGBTQ community will not be tolerated or accepted in our world, go to the GoFundMe page and make a donation.