Some years ago the Board of Cape Town Pride asked me to identify a beneficiary for the organisation.

At the time Cape Town’s LGBTI organisations were being well funded, primarily by Atlantic Philanthropies, and I cast my mind to identifying a need within Cape Town’s gay community that wasn’t being met by local organisations.

One need was apparent – we needed a shelter to accommodate LGBTI people during crisis periods. The concept soon gained momentum and we formed a board, developed a constitution and registered The Pride Shelter Trust as a non-profit, section 21 company.

Reasons for establishing the organisation were four-fold:

  • Cape Town, like other cities, has a general shortage of available space in shelters offering safe, short-term accommodation to individuals experiencing a crisis.

  • Many existing shelters are affiliated to faith-based organisations, often imparting shelters with a prejudice against homosexuality and alternate sexual

  • Gay individuals placed in shelters often experience homoprejudice from facility staff and, more frequently, from other shelter residents which results in
    secondary trauma.

  • Transgender people, in particular, invariably present challenges to existing shelters which are based purely on heterosexist norms related to gender.

Examples of people the shelter would be able to accommodate, for a short period, are young gay people who are evicted by their families as a result of coming out, victims of domestic violence (which also occurs in same-sex relationships), rape survivors, individuals who experience a financial crisis, gay people who are evicted by their families or partners on the grounds of their being HIV positive, and refugees from other countries where homosexuality is criminalised.

The Pride Shelter Trust initially went about raising funds to establish the shelter and to date has raised over one million rand, largely through one major bequest. We approached the City of Cape Town to partner with us and were recently allocated a fantastic large house in Oranjezicht which is ideal for our purposes and boasts six substantial bedrooms!

“One interesting element related to admission criteria is that we won’t discriminate against straight people…”

So where does this leave us? We have funds and a house but there’s still plenty to be done before we can boast a fully functional gay shelter. Firstly, the City has undertaken to renovate the exterior of the building, and we need to make minor indoor repairs. This means tons of paint, a plumber and general maintenance. Secondly, the facility needs to be equipped and furnished.

Beds, bunks, chairs and a large dining table are all needed, as is curtaining, linen (lots of it!) and towels, crockery and pots and pans. Then we need a large stove, a substantial fridge, a heavy-duty washing machine, a tumble dryer and an urn. A computer and a telephone system are must-haves and book cases, books and a music system would be great.

In terms of an actual programme we’re looking at what both local and international shelters are doing. The maximum period of stay, for example, must be decided; one thing we don’t want to happen is that the shelter is filled with residents and then remains statically full. To serve its designed purpose there has to be a turn-over of residents in order to ensure that beds are available. The emphasis is very clearly on short-term accommodation during a crisis period, which precludes our trying to provide accommodation to homeless people per se. Of course, each situation will be assessed based on need, according to very clear guidelines.

One interesting element related to admission criteria is that we won’t discriminate against straight people. Firstly, just how lesbian or gay would you need to be to gain admission, and what technological ‘scanner’ would we utilise to determine someone’s true sexual orientation? So, you rightly ask, what will prevent this shelter from simply becoming yet another shelter for the general public? We’ll have three distinct differences:

  • The culture of the facility will be totally non-discriminatory on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, age, religion and all the other “isms” – with a definite emphasis on sexuality

  • Space will most definitely be allocated for transgender people.

  • Priority will be given to gay and lesbian people over straight or bisexual people.

One thing I’m personally opposed to is that the shelter becomes a ‘dumping ground’ for other LGBTI organisations. Instead, referring organisations should be forced to assume ultimate responsibility for their clients. They’ll also need to provide counselling and other services.

On the other hand, one thing I’m personally very keen on is that the shelter will become a hub of LGBTI community involvement. Cape Town Pride will base their office there, and I’m hoping that the gay community will own the space by hosting regular events and meetings at the facility. Also, we can’t run the shelter in isolation without the ongoing support. For starters, we’ll need financial and other assistance. Residents will need to be fed, for example, so groceries will be needed. Washing powder, stationery and countless other goodies will need to be supplied on a regular basis.

The board of the Pride Shelter Trust is a small group of volunteers focused on accomplishing something positive that will certainly benefit the general gay community. The executive committee consists of Andrew Massyn, Ian MacMahan and myself. Help us turn our plans into reality by becoming actively involved in this exciting project.

For more information, or to become involved in this worthy project, call Glenn on 021 425 6463.

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