This month we have welcomed our 50th Full Member, Wolverhampton City of Sanctuary, to the network! Below their team share an update about how they work and some examples of the impact they’ve seen locally.
How long has your group been running and when did you first come across the issue of destitution?
Local Quakers (among others) had been supporting asylum seeker and refugee families in the area for several years. Our City of Sanctuary group was officially launched in 2012, but it really got going in 2013. You can see our history on our City of Sanctuary webpage.
Once we had a wider network of trusted supporters, we were able to respond to urgent requests from the Refugee and Migrant Centre (RMC). We now run a drop-in and take referrals from other local agencies alongside the RMC and churches.
How does your accommodation service work?
We are a volunteer-led, community-oriented group helping asylum seekers who are destitute, homeless or threatened with homelessness in the Wolverhampton area. We aim to make asylum seekers welcome which might include trying to find housing for them if they are homeless.
We currently house one destitute asylum seeker with the help of a local housing charity; we set up the connection and provide ongoing funds for set-up costs, utilities and Council Tax, whilst a third charity provides living costs. We have a fund and sub-committee which provide short-term help for other asylum seekers threatened with homelessness or who are actually homeless.
Our accommodation service works in a variety of ways. For instance, we sometimes use spare rooms in supporters’ houses, other times we work with local charity Hope into Action (another NACCOM member) and very occasionally we put people up in a cheap hotel/guest house. Through our destitution fund (Kenny’s Fund), we also offer financial support to destitute asylum seekers who are sofa-surfing with friends, providing essential needs additional to a bed for the night. We also make donations to local charities supporting destitute and homeless asylum seekers.
Do you have any stories you can share that demonstrate the challenges that people face and the impact you’ve seen locally?
Quite often the difficulties people face are caused or made worse by the UK asylum and benefits system’s frequent lapses and deficiencies. With the help of Kenny’s Fund, last year we supported people like Maria*, an asylum seeker from central Africa, who was homeless for months and without any income at all. We supplied her with some regular ‘pocket money’ for her basic subsistence. Now that she has been re-housed we can help her get some household essentials such as kitchen utensils and bedding. Last summer we also supported Memphis* from West Africa when she was made homeless. At the same time as this, others with legal expertise helped her to get back the support she needed. Her resilience is an inspiration.
Very recently, a City of Sanctuary volunteer found Adam*, an asylum seeker in poor mental health and sleeping rough on Wolverhampton’s canal bank. Thanks to the kindness of the community, we were able to pay for him to stay in a cheap hotel for a couple of nights, and then move him into temporary accommodation with Hope into Action. He is now getting proper psychiatric care and, even if life is still sometimes difficult, at least Adam has found his smile and some help and hope again.
Interested in getting involved with NACCOM? Find out more here.