NACCOM’s Community Researcher group has been working with Homeless Link to explore experiences of accessing support from Local Authorities throughout the pandemic. In this blog, we discuss early reflections from our research and calls for change from the Community Researcher group.

When you are destitute you don’t have the words. You don’t have a sky over your head and earth under your feet. You are hiding yourself and you don’t know where to go. You face a daily struggle for survival and people constantly disrespecting and disregarding you. The true impact of destitution is incapacitating, financially, physically, and emotionally. It’s a terrible, terrible thing.

We are part of NACCOM’s Community Researcher group, which is a space for people with lived experience of immigration control to research, analyse and present solutions to destitution in our communities. As a group our experiences are similar yet different. We have been working with Homeless Link to explore the experiences of people with no recourse to public funds (NRPF), particularly following ‘Everyone In’ (the Westminster Government’s scheme to get everyone off the streets during the pandemic).

This has included working together to plan and facilitate focus groups then collectively analyse the information we had gathered. We spoke to people who have asylum applications in process or had been refused. Here we report some of what we found.

‘Everyone In’ opened the doors to accessing accommodation for the first time for many people facing NRPF. However, we found examples where people were refused access to accommodation by the Local Authority despite the government directions.

“When they refused me –I was afraid to go outside because of high risk of COVID with my health condition. I didn’t have anywhere to go. I thought I would catch the virus and die”.

In the context of the ‘hostile environment’, it can feel that council workers and other support workers have a default position of disbelief before actually listening to your needs. You are wrestling with need for shelter, but afraid to ask for support as you do not know who you can trust.

“When you don’t have that paper, that status, you don’t want anyone to ask that question [about immigration status], you don’t know why the person is asking that question, whether the person is going to help you or report you. It is terrifying to answer that question.”

As members of our communities living across the UK, we make contributions like volunteering, previous work and caring for children who are British Citizens. We should have our Human Rights respected but it seems like there is a ‘hierarchy of laws’ where some councils are able to avoid providing support. We need to be treated like the whole people that we are, not just seen as ‘immigrants’. The result is that we don’t feel we can seek support when we need it.

“I don’t trust the council after these experiences. They only focus on immigration – they don’t treat you as a human being.”

While these experiences were common among the people we spoke to, we also found how being accommodated through the ‘Everyone In’ scheme had made a really positive change in some people’s lives. In one case, it contributed to regularising a participant’s status. Whether there is a pandemic or not, we feel that councils should have a responsibility to support residents living within a local area regardless of immigration status.

NRPF not only causes homelessness, but it also stops people accessing the support they need to escape it. We recognize that the housing crisis is impacting everyone, not just those with NRPF, and we need solutions that support everyone, regardless of immigration status.

Local authorities need to take a rights-based approach and assess the person on their need, rather than their immigration status. Policy has to change. Even if we can make smaller changes, at the local level, it will help people.

Signed by: Geo, Nico, Kas, J.A., Luna, Sarah – the NACCOM Community Researcher Team

This blog is being shared as part of the Homeless Link/NACCOM project, ‘Finding local solutions for non-UK national homelessness’ with funding from the Lloyds Bank Foundation. Over the coming months, we will be sharing more findings from this project, which is talking to people with lived experience as well as statutory and wider homelessness stakeholders.