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Ishmael Shilaluke after a prayer session at the Wembley Stadium Shelter for the Homeless

By Lawrence Mashabela

  • Ishmael Shilaluke shares the harsh reality of street life in downtown Johannesburg, emphasising the struggle for survival.
  • Admitted to the Wembley Stadium Shelter for the Homeless, funded by the Gauteng Provincial Government, Shilaluke expresses gratitude for the safety and amenities provided.
  • Transitioning from the streets to the shelter has been transformative for Shilaluke, who now receives assistance with obtaining essential documents, financial skills training, and job opportunities, aiming to regain independence and make room for others in need.

Ishmael Shilaluke says life is a hell in the streets, and that it is the survival of the fittest. Shilaluke had been living in downtown Johannesburg for months before being admitted to the Wembley Stadium Shelter for the Homeless, which is funded by the Gauteng Provincial Government.

He said he used to fall into a fitful sleep every night at the corner of Claim Street in Hillbrow, next to Universal Church. “It is not safe out there in the street; you sleep with one eye open. Thanks to the Department for being thoughtful of us and providing shelter,” he said.

During the day, Shilaluke would go to Joubert Park to get some food and rest because he did not sleep enough at night. He said where he stayed, there were no walls for protection, and they slept on a cold floor with no blankets.

Shilaluke left his family home in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, due to feuds, and never returned. He said that fights with his siblings, especially his elder sister, were no longer bearable and he decided to come to Johannesburg CBD to look for a job.

“I was the last born at home to nine siblings, and growing up, I had the privilege that our father was giving me too much attention; I didn’t know that this was not sitting well with my other siblings,” he added.

He said things turned sour after his father passed away, and they were always fighting with his siblings because they were accusing him of being a spoiled brat.

“My sister had accusations that my father loved me more than them, and now that he is no more, I am useless, and they want me to feel the pain,” he added.

The 27-year-old, originally from Limpopo, said at the time of all the fights he no longer had an income because he was not working, hence he decided to come to Johannesburg with the hope of getting some work, but it didn’t go well, and he ended up in the streets.

“I used to sleep out in the streets for months; I was not showering, dirty, and smelled so bad.”

Shilaluke was surrounded by drug users, and every day he witnessed them selling scrap, their bodies, or their dignity by begging to get the money that would feed their cravings for nyaope and other drugs. It was not safe at all with gun noise every day.

His life turned around after he went to seek help at Universal Church, where he was referred to Ikusasalethu, and the NPO then brought him to the Wembley Homeless Shelter. Shilaluke said he was admitted to the shelter in March this year and has already seen so much change. He mentioned that the shelter offers them showers and a meal, providing a significantly safer environment. At the time of his stay in the street, Shilaluke lost his identity documents and matriculation certificate; however, since he arrived at the shelter, he said the Social Workers are assisting him to get back all his certificates, and he already has an appointment with Home Affairs.

“We booked an appointment to get a new ID in the next two weeks,” he said.

“I am grateful to be at this shelter, and my life has changed significantly since I came here with the hope that I can get employment again.” While looking for employment, he is currently surviving by washing cars at Bree taxi rank in Johannesburg CBD. He said he has also applied for a Nasi-Ispani job opportunity.

The shelter also assisted Shilaluke in obtaining financial skills training. “I arrived at the shelter hopeless; I didn’t have anything, but recently I just received financial training. Today I know a lot about financial management; I know how to save, I know budgeting, and I know how to avoid debt.” Shilaluke also acquired a certificate in International Computer Driving License.

“As much as it’s comfortable here at the shelter, I don’t want to stay long; I want to stand on my own so that I can make space for other people who need help like me because I know the pain of sleeping in the street without food,” he concluded.

Picture by Lawrence Mashabela

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