ASYLUM-SEEKERS who have just secured refugee status in the UK are being forced into homelessness because they are being given just one week to leave their temporary accommodation, the diocese of London reports.
A recent change to Home Office practice means that many refugees — some of whom have been waiting to hear about their asylum claim for months or years — are being given seven days’ notice to find a new home. Often, people have not been provided with the documentation needed to rent accommodation, gain access to financial support, or find a job, the diocese says.
A press release explains: “People are often waiting months, or years for a decision by the Home Office. During this time, many of our churches provide practical and emotional support to them. Some are fleeing due to religious persecution having become Christian and turn to the local church for help. . .
“Without somewhere to live they don’t have a fixed address to find work and access the benefits they are entitled to.”
King’s Cross Church (KXC) runs a weekly drop-in and language café for refugees and asylum-seekers. Its local mission pastor, Zach Gain, said that what should be a moment of joy on gaining refugee status had become one of anxiety and stress, for the church volunteers who were trying to help, as well as for the individual.
“Many refugees are feeling quite desperate, and volunteers [are] feeling exhausted, not knowing where to refer people,” he said. “We have compiled lists of homelessness charities and organisations to refer people to, but all face long waiting lists.”
One volunteer leader, Tommy Ellis, said that one of the refugees whom the church was supporting had been sent an eviction notice on a Thursday, demanding that he leave his hotel by the Monday morning. The letter had been delayed, leaving the refugee just three working days to find accommodation for the Monday night.
“He was confused about what to do next, having thought [that] he would have more time to prepare himself and work with the council and other organisations to find somewhere to stay, post-hotel,” Mr Ellis explains. “He told me: ‘I only got this letter two days ago. I have tried to contact the council, but they had no translator. It’s OK, I am going to keep sleeping on the streets and keep trying.’”
A middle-aged Syrian told Mr Gain that he had received his letter on a Saturday — four days late — and had had to vacate the hotel by the end of the day.
“The letter stated he had received his Biometric Residents Permit. . . He was pretty desperate as he had not received it. Without it, he couldn’t access any support, or even put himself up in a hostel with no ID. The contingency hostel had threatened to call the police if he’d stayed,” Mr Gain said.
Another church volunteer said: “A lot of our volunteers feel untrained to handle this sudden increase in need in our community. . . It is upsetting to see people we have built trust and relationship with struggling with something as fundamental as access to accommodation. Many volunteers feel at a loss of what to do.”
The Red Cross estimates that it takes at least 35 days to start getting Universal Credit, and local authorities need at least 56 days to help with accommodation.
Pattie Gercke, the refugee and asylum development worker for the diocese of London, said: “We are hugely concerned about the increasing number of newly recognised refugees who are experiencing homelessness. It is appalling to see men and women who our church communities have journeyed with through their asylum claims being told by the Home Office that their claims are valid, but then having to sleep on the street. Seven-day eviction notices provide no time to find anywhere to stay, and this is creating an unnecessary homeless emergency.”
The Bishop of Stepney, Dr Joanne Grenfell, said: “I call upon our Government to act with compassion and humanity, allowing refugees in this situation a much more reasonable time to find accommodation and to begin their integration into this country.”
The diocese urged people to report rough-sleepers to the organisation Streetlink to improve data on homelessness; offer a spare room through a recognised refugee-housing scheme, such as Refugees at Home or Housing Justice; or recommend anyone who had properties available to rent to consider renting to a refugee at Local Housing Allowance rate (less than market rate).
A group of churches in Northampton have also expressed dismay at the decision by the Home Office to evict asylum-seekers from the Westone Manor Hotel.
Welcome Churches Northampton had been supporting the families with a weekly hub at the St Peter’s Church Rooms in Weston Favell. The BBC reports that the asylum-seekers — who include children attending local schools — have been sent to Leicester, Blackpool, and other destinations.
A message posted on Tuesday on the church Facebook page said: “This afternoon the residents of the Westone Manor Hotel were informed that they are all being moved on and will be leaving the hotel. To say we were all shocked, heartbroken & saddened is an understatement. Majority have now left and only had a few hours to pack their belongings. Children were coming home from school to see people putting their belongings into taxis. Those children did not have time to say goodbye to their friends. Others will be leaving tomorrow.”