London churches seeing huge rise in in newly- recognised refugees experiencing homelessness
Churches across the Diocese of London are expressing alarm at the dramatically increasing numbers of newly- recognised refugees experiencing homelessness, due to a recent Home Office change in practice to give only seven days’ notice to leave their accommodation.
These church communities, like many other faith groups, community organisations and charities, are involved in supporting people staying in local hotels waiting to hear about their asylum claim.
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.
However, at the point when they receive the good news that they have been granted refugee status, they are told to leave their accommodation at extremely short notice. In many cases just seven days’ notice is given, and often without the provision of documentation that refugees need to find a home, access financial support and find a job in a city already facing a desperate housing crisis.
Zach Gain is part of Kings Cross Church and runs a weekly drop in and language café for refugees and asylum seekers:
“Many refugees are feeling quite desperate and have left volunteers feeling exhausted, not knowing where to refer people. We have compiled lists of homelessness charities and organisations to refer people into, but all face long waiting lists.”
The receipt of a positive decision should be a moment of joy, and the start of a new life in the UK. But with one week of notice to find somewhere new to live, refugees are being forced into street homelessness. Without somewhere to live they don’t have a fixed address to find work and access the benefits they are entitled to.
Volunteer Leader Tommy shares the story of just one of the refugees they are supporting:
“He was sent an eviction notice on Thursday, telling him he needed to be out of his hotel by Monday morning. The letter had been delayed, leaving him just three working days to figure out where he would sleep on Monday night. He was confused about what to do next, having thought he would have more time to prepare himself and work with the council and/ other organisations to find somewhere to stay post-hotel. 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 okay, I am going to keep sleeping on the streets and keep trying.”
Zach tells us of another middle-aged Syrian man who arrived in great distress in the last week, having just had his refugee status granted:
“He had received his letter Saturday and had to vacate the hotel by the end of the day: so that’s four days. 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.”
The work at Kings Cross Church, like many of the churches who support refugees, is largely carried out by a dedicated team of volunteers. Poppy, a key volunteer explains the toll this is taking:
“A lot of our volunteers feel untrained to handle this sudden increase in need in our community. Many want to help the guests with filling out forms and working out who to approach but feel confused about where to start. 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.”
Zach Gain, Kings Cross Church
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 finding accommodation.
Pattie Gercke, Refugee & Asylum Development Worker, who supports church communities across the Diocese of London comments:
“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 Right Revd. Joanne Woolway Grenfell, Bishop of Stepney said:
“I am appreciative that so many of our churches, including KXC, are showing the love of God through deep care and support for refugees who are navigating the asylum system in our city.
I am deeply concerned for the welfare of those who have been granted refugee status and yet find themselves sleeping on our city’s streets.
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.”
We, alongside other organisations supporting refugees are calling for newly recognised refugees to be given 56 days from the receipt of their BRP (Biometric Residence Permit) as their move-on period from Home Office accommodation.
If you are a church community in the Diocese of London and are seeing newly recognised refugees experiencing homelessness do drop us a line. This will help both provide data for representing the scale of the crisis, and offer you support where desired.
There are important ways you can help as an individual:
Reporting anyone you see sleeping on the street to Streetlink.This adds valuable data into local authority and London data on the number of newly-recognised refugees who are sleeping on the streets.
If you have a spare room, you can offer it to a refugee in need through a recognised hosting scheme. Two excellent hosting projects are run by Refugees at Home and Housing Justice Hosting Project. Or contact us to be connected to a hosting project, or to explore providing paid lodging for a newly recognised refugee.
- If you or anyone you know have properties you may be willing to rent to a refugee at Local Housing Allowance rate (less than market rate), please get in touch with us to explore this opportunity.