Group offers helping hand to LGBTQ+ homeless shelter residents


LGBTQ+ homeless shelter residents may experience violence, abuse and discrimination from other residents and staff

A weak economy combined with social marginalisation and discrimination has seen some LGBTQ+ people forced onto the streets and in some cases into shelters.

International research indicates that members of the LGBTQ+ community are disproportionately vulnerable to becoming unhoused, often after being rejected by their families and communities.

In South Africa, there are only two shelters that specifically support queer people in need. One in Cape Town and another in Ekurhuleni, Gauteng.

That means that the majority of LGBTQ+ people in distress are forced to seek help at shelters that may not be safe for them. They may experience violence, abuse and discrimination from staff and other shelter residents or be denied access entirely.

In November last year, Human Rights Watch said that the South African government had not met its promise to provide necessary funding for shelters.

“Efforts should be made to improve access for marginalised people, including sex workers; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people; and undocumented survivors,” said the group.

It also stressed that “ongoing sensitisation and skills training for shelter staff to prevent discrimination against LGBT people, sex workers, or undocumented African non-nationals and to ensure tailored services are available is important.”

It’s in that context that the Gauteng-based OUT LGBT Well-being – the country’s second-oldest LGBTQ+ organisation – is striving to at least make a small dent in the problem in Johannesburg.

“With an already high unemployment rate and limited social and economic support, LGBTQ+ South Africans have the additional burden of dealing with societal exclusion and discrimination,” says Dawie Nel, said OUT’s director in a statement.

“And it is the less economically advantaged individuals who tend to bear the brunt of the effects of this marginalisation.”

OUT has forged relationships with the City of Johannesburg and the Gauteng departments of Social Development and Health to extend its services to LGBTQ+ residents at two shelters in the city.

A key component of the work is ongoing sensitisation training on gender, sexuality and LGBTQ+ issues, which OUT offers to staff and residents of the Wembley and Florida shelters.

These workshops help participants understand the realities faced by LGBTQ+ individuals, intending to enable a more welcoming and inclusive environment.

“We take a holistic approach to supporting our vulnerable and unemployed beneficiaries”

OUT’s Engage Men’s Health project staff also provide free sexual health services for the gay, bisexual and other MSM (men who have sex with men) residents at the shelters.

Funded by USAID, through PEPFAR, these services – including HIV testing, prevention and treatment and TB and STI screenings – are provided to MSM across the city through a clinic in Melville and outreach teams.

But by taking these services directly to shelter residents, OUT helps improve their adherence to medication such as PrEP and ARVs.

In addition, MSM shelter residents are given access to the programme’s mental health services that are funded by Gilead Sciences, such as counselling sessions with a social worker.

To support them in finding employment, the organisation’s skills development programme empowers queer shelter residents with basic job-seeking skills, linkage to learnerships and employment services, and access to laptops and wi-fi at the EMH clinic in Melville.

EMH further organises monthly outings such as a hike or a cinema screening to take the LGBTQ+ residents out of their daily routine. These events are a relaxing and safe space for the participants to share their experiences and feel a sense of community, explains the organisation.

OUT says it hopes to secure additional funding to roll out its direct services and LGBTQ+ sensitisation training to other shelters in the City of Johannesburg.

“We take a holistic approach to supporting our vulnerable and unemployed beneficiaries,” explains Nel. “One cannot, for example, expect individuals who are struggling to survive and have no means of transport to make scheduled appointments at a clinic to receive their HIV medication.”

Nel adds: “Efforts to tackle the HIV epidemic cannot only be medical in nature but must also include socio-economic and psychosocial support and empowerment.”

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