Mixed free accommodation, threatens the lives of LGBTQ+ community as they struggle with homophobic violence. 

The Wembley Stadium Homeless Shelter in Turffontein, which started providing accommodation to the homeless in 2020, is increasingly posing significant danger to the LGBTQ+ community that resides there.  

Speaking to Wits Vuvuzela, some members of the community say they have been victims of homophobic behaviours by staff and heterosexual residents.  

Lovemore Ushe, a transgender woman who has been staying at Wembley since March, says LGBTQ+ people are harassed in the showers. Residents share one shower among twenty-three people in one caravan. Ushe adds that LGBTQ+ people are given less food and are the last to get toiletries. Ushe also recalls being told by a social worker to leave the shelter and become a “prostitute” during an argument about the treatment she had been receiving at Wembley. 

Ushe is one of the 120 000 displaced by cyclone Idai in 2021, in Zimbabwe. Ushe found her way to South Africa to find safety and housing. She now joins the three LGBTQ+ homeless people at the shelter who fled queerphobic environments and continue to fear for their lives at Wembley. 

These incidents continue to happen despite the efforts of government and the LGBTQ+ organisation, OUT LGBT Well-being, to create an accommodating space.  

These claims come a week after OUT published a press release about the progress of their project to relocate LGBTQ+ homeless people to safer shelters. The project began in 2020 in collaboration with OUT’s Engage Men’s Health (EMH) division, The City of Johannesburg, the department of health and the department of social development. However, the project has been facing numerous problems.  

The shelter is built on a dusty plot of land which was once littered with unstable green tents for people displaced during the covid-19 hard lockdown. Though the shelter was upgraded to white caravans that house 23 residents in tightly packed bunk beds, the new infrastructure is the least of the LGBTQ+ residents’ concerns. 

EMH’s Londeka Xulu in action at the reception as they discuss logistics with one of the staff members. Photo: Rufaro Chiswo

“When you sleep, you think ‘Anything can happen to me’,” says Thabani Mabezane, a gay man and friend of Ushe who lives at Wembley.  

EMH’s Mental Health Problem manager, Londeka Xulu says that the issues faced by the LGBTQ+ residents are because there are no LGBTQ+ specific homeless shelters in Johannesburg. An article from the Mail and Guardian in 2018 by Carl Collison explains that this is an ongoing issue for LGBTQ+ people. Members of this community are often thrown out by their families and left to fend for themselves.  

As a result, Xulu explains that EMH had hoped for the project to focus on creating LGBTQ+ homeless shelters, but the pressing need for LGBTQ+ safe spaces led to the project targeting specific Johannesburg shelters and making them safer for the LGBTQ+ community.  

To achieve this, EMH has been conducting sensitivity training with the social workers and security at Wembley Stadium and the Florida men’s homeless shelter. The latest training session was in June 2022, but Xulu says “[the] issues keep on coming”. From shower harassment to verbal abuse from staff, Xulu often receives complaints from LGBTQ+ residents.  

“I can’t blame Engage, I blame the people who are pushing them away,” says Mabezane about the staff at Wembley who has been reluctant to listen to the concerns of the EMH and LGBTQ+ homeless people at the shelter. Xulu says that the process of communicating with the department of social development about the situation has also been “a battle”.  

The department of social development and the staff from Wembley stadium were contacted for a comment on the mentioned experiences of the LGBTQ+ homeless people at the shelter, but Wits Vuvuzela did not get a response.  

FEATURED IMAGE: The entrance to OUT’s Engage Men’s Health offices in Melville. Photo: Rufaro Chiswo