Tag Archives: migrant homelessness

A place to call home for separated migrant children

A considerable proportion of the migrants who arrive in the UK each year are ‘separated migrant children’ (SMC) – young people who reach the UK’s shores alone with no parent or guardian.  According to Home Office figures, there were 5,242 asylum applications from separated migrant children in 2022, up 39% since before the pandemic, making up 7% of total applications last year.   

To mark Refugee Week (19-25 June), Homes for Cathy’s communications lead Vicki McDonald spoke to Dannielle Read, Operations Manager at Hightown, a housing association which is tackling refugee homelessness through a dedicated supported housing scheme for separated migrant children (SMC).  

Tell us about Hightown’s Separated Migrant Children (SMC) scheme… 

We have three services in Hertfordshire that accommodate and support up to 28 separated migrant children at a time. Currently all our service users are males, however, should the need change and female bed spaces are required, we can look to adapt one of the schemes to female only, as we do not offer mixed gender services due to our service users’ cultural beliefs.   

The young people we support are aged 16 and 17 and they can stay with us for a up to 24 months, although the average length of stay is 10-12 months, as a high proportion of young people enter the UK at 17 years old. We occasionally extend a young person’s stay post 18 but only for a maximum of four weeks; the most common reason for this is a lack of available move on accommodation.  

In 2022-23 we supported a total of 57 young people, who had fled countries including Sudan, Afghanistan, Syria, Chad, Iran and Iraq to find safety. 

Dannielle Read, Hightown Operations Manager, oversees a specialist scheme for separated migrant children

How are young people referred to the service? 

Each local authority with a children’s service is part of the UK’s dispersal programme to accommodate separated migrant children – the National Transfer Scheme (NTS) – which was introduced in 2016 and made mandatory in 2021. Local authorities have a 0.1% threshold for SMC referrals, based on their total child population. The referral process is now well-established, so when a separated migrant child spontaneously arrives in a local authority, they can refer them to another authority if they have exceeded their own threshold. 

In Hertfordshire, where Hightown’s SMC scheme operates, the county council works with organisations such as ours to ensure that suitable accommodation is provided throughout the whole local authority area. Since Spring 2021, the number of young people accommodate in Hertfordshire has almost doubled, from 80 to 151 by December 2022. 

Separated migrant children under 18 are treated as children in need, with the same rights and entitlements as other young people to education, training and employment training opportunities. 

Hightown operates three supported housing schemes in Hertfordshire for young asylum seekers

What type of support do you provide? 

Many of the young people who are in our services have come from hugely different backgrounds and cultural ‘norms’, so it is important for our support team to help them develop an understanding of the local culture, whilst still embracing their own cultural background. For example, some young people come from a home where they cook their food on open fires with limited cooking appliances – our staff show them how to safely use an oven and hob. 

In addition to teaching daily living skills, we also support service users to access education – including ESOL classes – and healthcare, assist them with their Home Office asylum applications and help them with their cultural and wellbeing needs and integration into the local community. 

What are the main challenges and barriers separated migrant children must overcome as they start life in the UK? 

Many of the young people who arrive with us have endured terrible trauma in their home country, including torture, sexual violence, loved ones killed and homes destroyed, and the impact of these harrowing experiences cannot be underestimated. 

Many have taken perilous journeys of up to two years to reach the UK, often living in precarious and hostile situations with no contact with the family from which they have been separated. Some of the young people that come to us seek support from the British Red Cross who help find lost family members – sadly, some never have that contact again. Understandably, growing up without the crucial bond of a family has a detrimental effect on their psychological wellbeing and ability to adjust to life in the UK. 

The challenges faced by our service users are not only emotional – there are also many practical difficulties to overcome, including the language barrier. One of the hardest challenges is the lengthy and complicated process of applying for asylum. Almost a third of the young people in our care do not get a decision on their asylum application until after they have turned 18, which means they are unable to access supported accommodation. Whilst these young people are no longer categorised as ‘looked after children’, the local authority still has a duty to house and support them financially whilst their applications are being assessed. This can be quite challenging for some young people, as they must live with the uncertainty. 

Each young person joins us with varying needs, so we use a person-centred psychologically informed approach to put the correct support in place. Most importantly, we go the extra mile to build each young person’s trust and are committed to providing a safe, nurturing environment in which they can begin to recover. We have seen the lives of many young people transformed as a result. 

Homes for Cathy founding member Hightown Housing Association is a charitable housing association operating in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire which owns and manages over 8,000 homes and runs 89 care and supported housing schemes, including services for young people and adults experiencing homelessness.

Tackling migrant homelessness: A call for innovation and collaboration

Ahead of 2021 International Migrants Day on 18 December, Katie Fawcett and Paul Catterill, Network Development Coordinators at NACCOM, explain how the network supports housing associations to collaborate on innovative projects to prevent destitution among people seeking asylum in the UK

The potential for housing associations to play an important role in helping to end homelessness experienced by people under immigration control has always been an area of interest and exploration for NACCOM and our members.  In February 2020, before the world was gripped by the Covid-19 pandemic, we jointly hosted the Ending Migrant Homelessness conference in York with Crisis and Homes for Cathy.

Addressing Homes for Cathy’s eighth commitment

This provided a springboard for the development of a number of new relationships between housing associations and NACCOM members, working together through a joint desire to address homelessness in the asylum and immigration system and in many cases specifically to address the Homes for Cathy Commitment 8 “to contribute to ending migrant homelessness in areas where housing associations operate”.

Over the past year, data gathered through NACCOM’s annual members’ survey has revealed that 2,771 people were accommodated across the NACCOM network between April 2020 and June 2021. 1,503 (54%) of people were housed (NACCOM projects include housing, hosting and night shelters) across 363 properties, 37 (10%) of which were provided by 21 housing associations across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, including seven from Homes for Cathy members.

Accommodation models vary

Accommodation models vary and include difficult to let properties (because of size and bedroom tax) being converted to HMOs and made available rent-free specifically for the housing of people with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF).  In addition, there are new supported housing initiatives where newly granted refugees at risk of homelessness are housed, with the income generated enabling beds to be made available to people seeking asylum with NRPF whilst they are supported to regularise their immigration status.

Covid-19 has obviously created challenges to the momentum of this work, however in 2021, several further opportunities presented themselves to continue our collective efforts of raising awareness around destitution and homelessness in the asylum system and exploring ways that housing associations can make a positive impact.

Firstly, Homes for Cathy joined Bradford-based NACCOM member Hope Housing in delivering a Homelessness Summit to discuss ‘what next after Everyone In ends’. This was followed by an Ending Destitution event in Calderdale, working with another NACCOM member St Augustine’s to promote and explore partnership approaches for developing NRPF accommodation in the borough.

NACCOM’s Network Development team also presented at the Homes for Cathy ‘Ending Migrant Homelessness’ forum in September, which brought together over 61 housing associations, charities and other agencies to hear about innovative ideas and responses to accommodation solutions for people with NRPF.

Our collective work will continue in 2022 and will be an important consideration when NACCOM launches its new strategy in spring next year. Further challenges presented by the Nationality and Borders Bill and ongoing Covid-19 crisis will undoubtedly require innovative and collaborative responses from the sector to end homelessness for people in the asylum and immigration system, and we look forward to being part of the response.

NACCOM – the No Accommodation Network – is a charity committed to bringing an end to destitution amongst people seeking asylum, refugees and migrants with no recourse to public funds living in the UK, through promoting best practice and supporting the establishment of accommodation projects.  For more information, email office@naccom.org.uk.

A place to call home for asylum seekers in South Yorkshire

South Yorkshire Housing Association‘s Co-Director of Care, Health and Wellbeing, Charlotte Murray, shares more information about their growing partnership with ASSIST – a Sheffield based organisation who work with people who are seeking sanctuary and who have been refused asylum.

I’m a firm believer that no human – or organisation for that matter – survives alone. Together with Jochen Kortlaender (Accommodation Manager for ASSIST Sheffield), South Yorkshire Housing Association hopes to deliver a new feasibility study called Filling the Void, which has been funded by Crisis. 

ASSIST Sheffield provides accommodation, information and other support.  ASSIST has a 17-year history of amazing work with asylum seekers in our city. For the past two years, as part of our work as a Homes for Cathy member, we have been working with ASSIST and learning from their expertise to help contribute to ending migrant homelessness.

We’re not alone.  In 2007, Sheffield became the first City of Sanctuary in the UK and, in addition to ASSIST Sheffield, lots of organisations now take pride in the welcome it offers to people in need of safety and the provision of exceptional services and support.   

Covid-19 has been hard for everyone, but for people with no recourse to public funds – and the organisations that support them – it has been crippling. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the night shelter that ASSIST ran in a church hall in Sheffield had to close and remains closed. This previously provided essential emergency night-time accommodation for people who had no recourse to public funds. 

The Filling the Void feasibility study does what it says on the tin. Working with ASSIST, and drawing on insight from NACCOM and others, over the past two months we’ve been looking at the feasibility of using SYHA properties that are void (empty) to provide short-term emergency accommodation via ASSIST for asylum seekers.    

In theory this sounds straightforward and a total no-brainer but, as with any good feasibility study, the devil is in the detail. Luckily, we’ve been guided by expert project manager, Oliver Chamberlain, who has extensive experience of working with both ASSIST and SYHA in the past. In addition, our two years partnership with ASSIST has ensured that the Filling the Void project is building on a firm relationship, trust and understanding between housing (SYHA) and ASSIST.

So what have been the challenges? The feasibility is ongoing but the main things so far include:  

  • Housing availability/location. We don’t have many void properties in central Sheffield that aren’t turned around very quickly and re-let. Demand is higher than ever.
  • HMOs. To ensure ASSIST can meet the demand for emergency accommodation, and asylum seekers can support each other, HMOs (Houses in Multiple Occupation) are desirable. These properties require additional safety requirements. Transforming a general needs property into an HMO is too time-consuming and expensive to provide short-term accommodation.
  • State of properties. Often properties are void because they require major repairs and are unsuitable for habitation.
  • Bills, insurance, lease agreements. Smaller issues including who pays the council tax and utility bills on the property and how the management agreement should be formulated to ensure compliance have presented challenges.

Despite this, we have identified a couple of HMO properties in Sheffield which are void, and would otherwise remain so, as SYHA assesses them for disposal or redevelopment. We’re working with ASSIST on the details but hope that these properties will provide much needed short-term emergency accommodation via Assist for people with no recourse to public funds in Sheffield. This will be especially important as we exit from Covid-19.

We’ll keep working with ASSIST on the Filling the Void project and our wider partnership to ensure that we walk the talk in helping to contribute to ending migrant homelessness. Together we are stronger and we cannot walk alone.

If other Housing Providers would like to support this project, please get in touch. People can donate to ASSIST here.

Charlotte Murray, Co-Director of Care, Health and Wellbeing, South Yorkshire Housing Association

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Join our free Housing Solutions to Migrant Homelessness event

15 September 2021