WYDAN (the West Yorkshire Destitute Asylum Network) joined NACCOM when their night shelter launched for its third consecutive year at the end of 2017. As the current winter season comes to an end, we caught up with one of their trustees, Andrew Rathbone, and Katrina Burton, the Project Manager, to discuss how the shelter has been operating, who the project supports, and what their plans are for the future.
Andrew explains; ‘The shelter takes referrals for up to 10 men from Leeds and West Yorkshire more widely. We are operating at, or close to, capacity every night, using different venues each week. The venues are usually churches but we are also working with a synagogue and a housing cooperative, and we have adopted a multi-faith approach to recruitment.’
The people that come to the shelter are usually destitute refused asylum seekers, although the shelter also receives referrals by Migrant Help for people evicted from the Initial Accommodation centre in Wakefield, if they are do not qualify for asylum accommodation. Last winter, a third of the referrals to the shelter came from Migrant Help. WYDAN also support people who are destitute after getting their leave to remain, though referrals for this group are much less frequent as there are other services available locally.
There is no limit on how long people can stay at the shelter on a week by week basis, although to date it has been a winter service only. To help ensure people move on to somewhere safe and secure at the end of the season, WYDAN has been working closely with other local accommodation and support providers, including fellow NACCOM members LASSN and PAFRAS.
On the role the night shelter plays in the city, Ruth Davany, Director at PAFRAS, recently wrote; ‘By providing essential safe, warm and reliable bed spaces the Night Shelter meets the… basic needs of asylum seekers living in destitution. This means that energy which otherwise would have been spent on survival activities, such as finding somewhere to sleep and the next meal, is reserved for fighting their case and seeking specialist support to recover, build resilience and make informed decisions. Without the Night Shelter asylum seekers not in support are at risk of falling further into destitution and many will face devastating situations including trafficking and exploitation.’
This month, the shelter is taking a break to give staff and trustees a chance to reflect and plan ahead, in particular recruit venues, train volunteers and raise funds, with a view to starting an all-year-round shelter in August 2018. Recruiting new venues, Katrina explains, can take time because host organisations sometimes need practical support with recruiting volunteers, providing food for guests and ensuring adherence to WYDAN’s health and safety and safeguarding policies.
Venues that have taken part in shelter coordination over previous seasons have highlighted some of the rewards that working together can bring, including building links within the community and seeing increased awareness and sensitivity to asylum issues amongst volunteers and church congregations. Volunteers from host organisations have shared; ‘It has made me open my eyes to the lives of asylum seekers‘ and ‘It’s a great thing to support our guests (the nights I was there the weather was dreadful).’ Another described how it ‘brought us together as a community, gave us the chance to serve and love of our guests/friends in their distress, and helped us all to resist the national ‘immigrants are not welcome’ narrative in a practical and meaningful way.’
Meanwhile, guests of the shelter have shared their positive views of the project, explaining; ‘This is the first time I’ve felt safe in a long time,’ ‘It is good to share food together‘, and ‘My heart is warm when I meet good people‘.