Queer homelessness is a pandemic on its own
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Lethabo Hanong, 26, is a queer activist who volunteers at the human rights non-profit organisation, The Great People of South Africa.
Hanong has worked with various organisations fighting for social justice and knows all too well the pain of being destitute and homeless.
Since the age of 16, Hanong recalls being emotionally abused after coming out as gay.
“My family started treating me differently and made me feel unwelcome at home. When I finished my matric, I realised that I am not gay, I am transgender, and this is where things got worse.”
Hanong left home last year and had lived from room to room, either at a family’s or a friend’s house. Hanong returned home in January but said nothing had changed.
“I received an ultimatum that I have to be out by the end of June. I was told that I am not welcome here. I only get a place to sleep and eat at a friend's house as they do not give me food.”
Hanong said homeless people were looking for an inclusive shelter because they needed a space where they can be themselves.
“I need to consider my safety. I need to be in a space where I can freely express myself without wondering whether I will be judged for my sexuality, and where I am not in danger of being raped or killed.”
Hanong said he has experienced various hate crimes while going from house to house asking for a place to sleep and said that it has been very traumatising.
“I was beaten up while living on the streets, and I was nearly a victim of rape. I had to start attending self-defence classes to protect myself.”
The activist said getting a shelter for queer people would mean more than just giving them a home, it would mean giving them a second chance at life.
The plight that Hanong is faced with aligns with the SOSS Collective’s shelter campaign.
QUEER rights organisation is advocating for the rights of unhoused LGBTQ+ people in their new shelter campaign. SOSS stands for ‘Sada oms sada saub’, a Khoi phrase that means “our home, our protection”
SOSS Collective consists of queer activists from diverse backgrounds and experiences that have joined voices and combined networks to accomplish positive change and policy reform for queer people.
Chairperson of the collective Bayanda Ndumiso said activists could achieve more when working together than when working alone.
“We want to create a space that already understands and enables the LBTQIA+ movement to unpack the challenges we face. There are challenges regarding shelters being built, charities and activism work,” he said.
The collective’s name, Ndumiso said, was the vision for the shelter campaign.
“We want to create a home for our community, but once that home has been created, we want to protect it and have it be a safe, diverse and inclusive place.
“We feel very strongly about the need for inclusive shelters as most of our queer folk are currently unhoused. In this time of Covid-19, they do not have access to PPE+ shelters and proper sanitation.”
Unused buildings and land exist within townships, and Ndumiso believed that it could be used more efficiently.
“Queer people are survivors of gender-based violence, hate crimes and trauma. There is only one shelter that exists for our community, but because it is based in the CBD, it is not accessible to everyone.
“We are being excluded from existing shelters by policies that are against us, that are homophobic and not inclusive to queer people,” he said.