Week 3 - LGBTI Refugees and Projects in Cape Town

PASSOP hit the ground running on Monday morning: quite a few clients came in, and then the office closed temporarily for a joint meeting at a nearby restaurant in the Central Business District. The directors and office managers met with all the interns (and bought us lunch!) to discuss upcoming initiatives, review the new intern work schedule, and provide a forum for socializing. 

Afterward, the LGBTI program director, Victor Chikalogwe, met separately with LGBTI program interns. Victor went into more depth about the lack of housing/accommodation, jobs, and networking resources facing LGBTI refugees, as well as his recent ideas aimed at alleviating those problems for PASSOP’s LGBTI clients. Some LGBTI refugees come without any documentation from their country of origin, and this impedes obtainment of housing because most complexes and landlords require some type of status as a prerequisite (on top of seemingly inexorable rent increases in and around city center). PASSOP hopes to use some of its recently obtained funding to rent a building near city center, and offer free accommodation for two to six LGBTI refugees while they undertake the refugee and/or asylum seeker application process and search for jobs. An amazing idea, but, as noted by Victor, a frequent problem is client accountability and balance: How does a nonprofit organization balance its need to take care of vulnerable populations with the need to conserve resources and empower individuals to become self sustaining (who may or may not take the initiative to become as such)? Unfortunately, some clients take advantage of NPOs and treat their services as “free handouts,” “ride the wave” of housing as long as they can, visit multiple organizations and “drain” their resources, or simply need time to recover from crisis and are not able to become self sustaining after two weeks or even two months. Striking this balance is incredibly frustrating: many LGBTI refugees (and refugees in general) need immediate aid and shelter, and NPOs obviously want to help their clients and empower and guide them as efficiently as possible, but providing for needs sometimes becomes a liability or unwise investment.

On Wednesday, another intern, Matthew, and I visited the Pride Shelter to revisit some of these concerns and ask for advice from an organization that has provided housing and other services to LGBTI South Africans and (sometimes) refugees since 2006. Guy Hamilton, the Community Mental Health Coordinator, noted the same concerns but said that the organization had seen success through frequent check ins to document progress, workshops to develop skills, and reexplaining Pride Shelter’s role to the residents to (frequently) remind them about the temporariness of their accommodation. 

Then, Guy, Matthew, and I discussed the ways that PASSOP interns could help Pride Shelter’s residents. Guy proposed that we develop workshops to help residents develop their skills; Matthew offered his experience in educating refugees about their rights related to securing housing and employment, and I offered to develop an hour-long curriculum on leadership and confidence-building. Guy agreed to let us come in and host an hour- or two-hour-long workshops between June and July; we happily agreed to develop and host three during our stay in Cape Town.  

Finally, I took initiative this week to propose a major project to Victor, the other LGBTI interns, and Guy at Pride Shelter: Cape Town has a thriving LGBTI community, but the city generally suffers from racial and class-based divisions that ultimately affect refugees (who often come to South Africa with very few resources). However, the more affluent, upper and middle class persons and business owners still seem to feel compelled to engage with the larger community. I proposed a fundraising idea to bridge the gap between this more affluent LGBTI community (largely based in city center, namely the De Waterkant and Sea Point areas) and the LGBTI refugee community; a lively socializing event of some type (details to come) to encourage socializing between these groups, the development of networking connections for refugees, and donations to PASSOP (and possibly Pride Shelter). Victor told me that an intern from last summer (or winter, here in Cape Town) had organized a similar event, with one hundred to two hundred attendees! I found this very exciting, and hope to get in touch with this former intern very soon to retrieve the event details, the attendee list, and get an idea of how we could improve the event this year. I also contacted a friend in the United States, Ahmed, who specializes in social entrepreneurship. He and I have had a few conversations about the event, and he has agreed to help me develop a report for PASSOP about the event; the idea is to develop a “theory of change” about how the event, activities, and donation can produce positive socioeconomic change for the LGBTI community, and refugees in particular. Our next step is to review the event details from last year, get the planning started for this year’s event, and then develop “indicators” to shape the data (quantitative and qualitative) for the report.