By Jake Jonstone, Nightstop Manager at Depaul UK

It was Wednesday morning last year in August, when I turned up to work to find everything had completely changed overnight. Suddenly, my team and I couldn’t answer calls or emails fast enough, people were knocking at the office door, we were inundated, and simply didn’t have the resources to cope.

Our work, placing young people at risk of homelessness into emergency accommodation and helping them access housing services, had becoming increasingly busy in recent years, but this overnight jump in numbers caught us completely off guard and I must admit, we weren’t prepared. Suddenly, we were forced to turn away more people than we could help.

It quickly became clear that a change in government policy, hastily implemented to clear a backlog of open asylum cases, had not only fast-tracked many more cases than usual, but dramatically reduced the time, before being evicted, that an asylum seeker is given to leave their Home Office accommodation once their status is settled.

They now had as few as seven days to find alternative accommodation, instead of 28 days, which is significantly short of the 56 days the Homeless Reduction Act of 2017 recommends for finding accommodation.

The resulting chaos was an almost 234 percent increase in refugees sleeping rough on the streets of London and a deluge of referrals we were struggling to place. Suddenly almost all of the young people seeking our services were refugees. Across the country, referrals of refugees to our Nightstop service were up by 65 percent.

Most of the refugees we see don’t have family or friends in the UK, they have not been allowed to work and for many, English is not their first language, making access to local support services incredibly tough. Most don’t even know they are entitled to Universal Credit or how to apply. They literally woke up one morning and found themselves out on the streets.

These are the people who turn up on our doorstep – exhausted, drained of hope and desperate. They just want help, and they don’t care who from. It was heartbreaking to know there was only so much we could do. I remember one woman we had to turn away in January, she had been sleeping on the streets for days and was so cold she could no longer feel her hands. All we could do was give her a cup of tea and some warm clothes to wear. It was devastating for the whole team.

Thankfully, the government eventually reversed their eviction notice period in December 2023, but the urgency to clear the backlog remained. There are still many more refugees than before who need urgent support with their housing.

 

*Published in The Tablet, April 2024

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