This week many organisations around the country are marking World Homelessness week. For these 7 days we reflect on and draw attention to the stories of those who find themselves in unstable living situations, or who face the distress of street homelessness. At JRS, for many of our refugee friends who face destitution at the hands of government asylum policy, homelessness is an inescapable factor in their lives, every day of the year.
Those who are seeking asylum often live in precarious situations, couch surfing with friends and potentially risking their lives in unsafe, exploitative living arrangements. This is because they are banned from working, and do not have the automatic right to rent in the UK. Many of the friends we accompany at JRS UK regularly share with us their anxiety and fear of essentially being forced to live without the safety of a permanent roof over their head. The COVID-19 pandemic has only increased this dire situation for many of our friends, as a new layer of challenges – with social distancing, and new health risks – are added in trying to move from temporary home to temporary home. While our Day Centre once allowed our refugee friends a warm welcome and a hot meal once a week, we are now unable to show this very practical and reassuring hospitality.
We learnt last month that the Home Office has begun, as of the 15th September, to resume evictions from asylum accommodation for people initially refused asylum in England, with plans to resume in Scotland and Wales in the future.
Many frontline organisations such as JRS UK are extremely concerned about this decision, as we recognise its immediate and lasting impact on those currently in asylum accommodation who will face the harsh reality of street homelessness as a result.
Having a safe place to stay during the Covid-19 crisis seems so obvious – and it’s something I know many of us take for granted – as it is essential for us all if we are to protect ourselves and others. What really drives our work at JRS is hearing the experiences of our refugee friends, and realising the difference that accompanying them can make. In her blog, our communities of hospitality coordinator Naomi shares some of these stories.
As we all focus our prayers and attention to our friends’ experiences of homelessness this week, it is easy to fall in to despair and feel disheartened. But it’s so important to remember that there is so much you and I can do to speak up against evictions, and work towards finding a safe and warm place to stay for those seeking asylum.
There are many ways you can take action with JRS and other organisations like The No Accomodation Network (NACCOM). Today is NACCOM’s Day of Action which marks 21 days (the eviction ‘notice period’ for those given a negative decision) since the Home Office announced its move to restart evictions. You can join them in sending a message to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, asking her to stop asylum evictions now.
They are asking supporters to create a paper house and inscribe a message to the Home Secretary inside, then post a picture of it to social media using the hashtag #StopAsylumEvictions.
You can also download a template letter asking your local council to speak up to oppose these plans; or download a template letter to write directly to your local MP.
Those of you who live in the London area could directly help one of our friends facing destitution by opening your home to one of our friends seeking asylum. Our volunteer hosting scheme ‘At Home’ re-opened last month and we are in urgent need of new volunteer hosts to show hospitality during a short term placement.
And for those of you further away, I hope you will consider donating to our Refugee Friends Hardship Fund. Anything you can give goes directly to providing our destitute friends with reassuring essentials such as toiletries, food parcels, mobile phone credit top-ups so they can stay in touch with loved ones, and small hardship grants to help them buy everyday essentials such as warm clothing or medicines.
It’s hard to imagine the toll homelessness takes on those facing destitution as a result of seeking asylum; but if we work together to take action, and encourage others to join us, we can make our voices heard as loudly as possible and bring about change for our friends.
Accompany our refugee friends this World Homelessness Week (4-11 October)
Read JRS ‘At Home’ Coordinator Naomi’s Blog on the experiences of our friends facing street homelessness.
Take part in NACCOMs day of action and make a paper house to send a message to Home Secretary Priti Patel
Find out more about the JRS ‘At Home’ hosting scheme
Make a donation to JRS UK to help provide our refugee friends with essential practical support