Providing places of shelter for the most vulnerable

By Jacob Quagliozzi, Deputy Director of Housing Justice

The centenary of the birth of Blessed Oscar Romero has provided a new impetus to reflect on his words of wisdom and passion for social justice.  I recently read a collection of his homilies and stumbled across these words:

“The transcendence that the church preaches is not alienation; it is not going to heaven to think about eternal life and forget about the problems on earth. It’s a transcendence from the human heart. It is entering into the reality of a child, of the poor, of those wearing rags, of the sick, of a hovel, of a shack. It is going to share with them. And from the very heart of misery, of this situation, to transcend it, to elevate it, to promote it, and to say to them, “You aren’t trash. You aren’t marginalized.” It is to say exactly the opposite, “You are valuable.””

To mark Refugee week (19th-25th June) Housing Justice has published its first annual review of the Housing Justice Hosting project, which matches people with a spare room in London to a destitute refugee in need of shelter and with a claim in the asylum system.

The plight of failed asylum seekers in our project is severe. All the refugees have no recourse to public funds, no access to public benefits or housing and no legal right to work. All have found themselves homeless because of the restrictions placed on them by their failed asylum status and case.

Our project sets out to enable church groups to be able to host some of the most vulnerable people in society in a way that is safe for both host and guest. Our guests come to us through several referral agencies in London who assist destitute migrants. At the same time, our team go out into churches, Christian and secular groups across London to develop a network of hosts with a spare room and who are willing to offer that room to a guest.

After some safeguarding checks, the guest is matched with a potential host and we arrange a meeting in a neutral location to further test suitability. If the matching meeting is successful, the hosting placement begins within a few weeks with Housing Justice Hosting staff checking in regularly and the referral agency continuing to assist with the asylum case. Housing Justice provides a destitution fund of £25 a week for the migrant.

At the end of the project’s first full year we have been able to assess the impact that it has made. The results are encouraging; more than forty individuals were hosted and more than £22,000 was paid by Housing Justice to individuals in need through our destitution fund (with a significant proportion of this sum coming from Catholic religious orders and congregations).

We have sixty-eight hosts from across London currently registered with us, a number we aim to increase significantly in the coming year.

Hosts do so much more than simply offering shelter. One of the most important parts of the project is the relationship between guest and host and the journey of understanding they both undertake together.

A guest from Eritrea tells us in the report: “After I came to Housing Justice I was so happy. The lady who gives me her spare room also teaches me English and she helped me find voluntary work. Now I do something, this makes me feel alive.” Similarly, a host tells of her tears when her guest left her home after being granted leave to remain and the ability to move into independent accommodation. She says: “he had become part of our family.”

These deeply moving stories are ones of a transcendence of the human heart, of bringing hope and of journeying together with people in need.

Over the coming years we hope to further develop our project and offer more opportunities for more people to be involved. This may include those who do not have a spare room but might wish to sponsor a migrant financially.

Our faith calls us to meet the challenges that destitute migrants face with a transcendence of the human heart – we are called, as Archbishop Romero put it, to say: “You aren’t trash. You aren’t marginalized […] You are valuable.”

To find out more about Housing Justice Hosting please email hosting@housingjustice.org.uk

This article first appeared in the CSAN ‘Caritas in Action’ column in the Catholic Times on 23.06.17