BLOG: What is 'hidden homelessness' like as a refugee or migrant in Greater Manchester?

27 October 2021 in , .

A blog by Kathy Lebadou, Greater Manchester resident, Migrant Destitution Fund ‘storyteller’, Caring & Sharing Volunteer, and Chair of Steering Group for Refugee Action.


Kathy

It’s a small world.

Often when I repeat this statement it’s out of sheer amusement of meeting someone in the most unlikely places or circumstances.

I first met Marie & Nadine (not their real names…), two sisters in their 60s, at a social gathering through church. Like everybody else we mingled, shared laughter, did a bit of dancing and exchanged numbers.

Months later the 2 ladies walked into the Caring & Sharing community hub in Rochdale where I volunteer. ‘It’s a small world, indeed’, I thought. This time it was not a social gathering - they were seeking economic support. Nadine was exhausted, limping and struggling with her health. They shared their full story with me and how they had been destitute for 2 years – including when I saw them at the Church gathering. They had been happy, sociable, mixing and flourishing. Little did I know they were also homeless, struggling to feed themselves, clean themselves, and meet their basic needs.

They were in this situation because their claim for asylum had been denied by the Home Office (over one third of claims are then accepted on appeal, so chances are high that decision will be eventually overturned). They had been chucked out of their temporary accommodation and left with nothing. Not for the first time, I was astonished to hear how they were expected to support themselves financially, pay for rent, utilities, groceries, clothing, transportation etc when they are not allowed to work and can’t claim benefits (due to a visa condition known as ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’).

The Real Hidden Homeless

I am seeking asylum myself and live in fear of ending up in a similar situation. Volunteering for Caring and Sharing Rochdale has been an eye-opening experience. Often you come across someone who may seem like they are experiencing a normal day. On the surface everything is going well for them. But in reality they are destitute and desperate. That is what hidden homelessness is.

We are not seen 002

Day to day, Marie and Nadine go from staying with friends to staying with strangers and staying in a church in Manchester. Failing to make ends meet has been at the top of their everyday struggle, not mention their poor health. To get by they rely on groups like Caring & Sharing, on financial support from initiatives like the Migrant Destitution Fund, and on the religious institutions and social connections who do know about their hidden struggles.

How you can help

It was such a joy for me as a volunteer to hear them call me ‘semeki’ (sister in law) to express gratitude whenever they came and collected the MDF grant we were able to support them with. A little dignity lights up the world, and that’s a big part of what’s provided by the MDF, which was funded by the GM Mayor’s Charity and been kept going with the help of private donations. Things like this are crucial for hidden homelessness, so people don’t have to rely on handouts and food banks. In fact, supporting initiatives like this are one of the major ways individuals in Greater Manchester can address hidden homelessness, so if you want to ensure this lifeline is there for people like Marie and Nadine, take a look at what they do at www.migrantdestitution.co.uk.

My hope is that one day we’ll have an asylum system in this country which is humane and compassionate.

One which allows asylum seekers the right to work for their own keep, and supports people like Marie & Nadine who are physically more frail. No one should be destitute and hopeless, certainly not because of their immigration status. Sadly, with the Anti-refugee bill currently going through Parliament, the likelihood is that homelessness amongst migrants and people seeking sanctuary. As well as volunteering with the MDF and Caring & Sharing, I’m currently Chair of the Refugee Action Steering Group, and you can read more about our campaign to stop this bill here.

With so much homelessness amongst migrants being out of sight, we need people shouting about the injustices of this bill and demonstrating they stand together with refugees, so I hope you can join us so we can make a difference.

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