CSAN Blog

Revive group’s vision for empowerment of women refugees

By Hattie Ditton, Revive UK, Manchester

At Revive, we seek to support refugees and people seeking asylum in every aspect of our work. As part of our welcome project, we have a successful resettlement process. We have recognised that, while our work reaches hundreds of people, there is a noticeably lower number of women who are accessing our services.

Realising this, we decided to create a space specifically for them. In 2016, Revive set up a Women’s Group, with the aim to empower female members of the refugee communities in Greater Manchester. The dynamic group not only provides an all-important support network, but also gives women the opportunity to learn new practical skills.

The women experiment with different mediums such as spray paint, needlework and collage to make cards, jewellery and other crafts. They are then able to go on to sell their creations at local fairs and events to continue to raise money and awareness for Revive. In doing so, they have expressed that they are pleased to be able to offer something back to the organisation.

Sustainable products are becoming fashionable. ‘Artisan’ everything can be found in almost every shop window. It seems that people are becoming more and more interested in where items come from and the story behind them. The Women’s Group seized this new trend, responding to this demand for ethical, handmade products. They let their creativity go wild and got to work making a beautiful collection of brooches from recycled metals. The women produce really intricate and unique pieces, each telling a different story.

Many women have reported that the resettlement period in the UK can be a lonely one. Our beneficiaries value the Women’s Group for its inclusiveness. Women from all different cultures and backgrounds are able to unite, share and learn from each other.

Mabel, from Eritrea, is one of the beneficiaries who attend every week. She arrived as a shy and quiet woman, who rarely voluntarily got involved with group conversations. In just a few months, her level of confidence has noticeably rocketed and she has benefited enormously from the support of the group.

“Since I started coming to the Women’s group, I have made new friends, I have learnt new skills and I have more confidence than before,” she told Revive.

Maureen, who is a Lay Spiritan from Manchester, has been volunteering and coordinating the group for ten years, with the help of other volunteers. She shares Revive’s vision of breaking down barriers, ending discrimination and promoting social justice.

She described to us the fulfilment she gets from the group: “it brings me such joy to watch the women’s journeys”.

She is there every step of the way. She told Revive how much it means to her to be able to watch women like Mabel grow.

“Even when ladies begin work, or move on, they still come back to share their news when they get their status, or have babies”.

Her enthusiasm and energy is infectious, and helps to maintain such a positive and welcoming atmosphere in a group that is based on mutual respect.

Another beneficiary, Mahtab, explained, ”if I didn’t used to be able to do something I would be shy to speak out but Maureen has taught me that you can learn new skills, no matter what your age”.

We have a big focus on giving women a voice and enabling them to develop their own skills. It’s about taking back control for the women, and being able to reclaim ownership of their future.

Finally, Mabel said: “This group has helped me so much. I have always been creative and now I can put this creativity to use, making things like cards and needle-work, which I can sell to make money and earn a living”.

Through Revive’s Women’s Group, ladies like Mabel can get back some self-belief, which ultimately is the most precious thing to drive forward their future in the UK.

The asylum-seeking process can be especially challenging for women, many of whom have experienced gender-specific forms of persecution in their home countries or during their journey here, which can have a lasting impact on somebody’s mental health. This can leave women frightened, misunderstood and alone. The Women’s Group is a space where trust can be rebuilt and struggles and insecurities can be forgotten.

“Some days, all the women want to do is laugh”, explained Maureen.

Such a simple thing, like having somewhere to be listened too, is invaluable.

“Monday is the best day of the week for me”, said Agnes, who has been coming to the group for the past year.

At Revive we have no doubt that each one of these ladies will go on to do amazing things.

Make an effort to get to know the women in your community. It could mean a lot to them and, you never know, you could end up making a friend for life.

New beginning for Housing Justice

By Kathy Mohan, Chief Executive of Housing Justice

 

Blessed John Henry Newman wrote that “to live is to change”. However, as he went on to acknowledge, this is not always easy. As Housing Justice bid farewell to Chief Executive Alison Gelder on 17th March, Housing Justice went through one of its biggest changes in its recent history. As Alison’s successor, I know there are big shoes to fill and major challenges to face.

 

Over Alison’s 14 years at Housing Justice there is much to be proud of. Housing Justice’s work with Winter Night Shelters evolved from a forum for 5 London night shelters to a network of more than 70, an established toolkit to support the development of new night shelters and a respected Quality Mark with 13 night shelters now graded as Excellent. The Faith in Affordable Housing project has grown from an online guide for church property officers to the provision of bricks and mortar for people who need homes. In London tonight, 32 destitute asylum seekers will stay with volunteer hosts through the Housing Justice London Hosting Project. The project has provided hospitality to more than 50 destitute migrants since its conception in 2015. A range of training, toolkits and support programmes have been delivered to churches and community groups offering practical support to those experiencing homelessness.

 

Throughout all this work, Housing Justice has been a vocal advocate for those in housing need, speaking in parishes and to other groups, giving radio and TV interviews, writing articles about Christian action on homelessness and not forgetting Tweeting and Facebooking. Housing Justice are a voice for Church concerns in the homelessness and housing sectors as well as with national and local government.

 

Yet the scandal of homelessness and the need for more housing has continued. The most visceral sign of homelessness, rough sleeping, has increased exponentially; government statistics for 2016 estimated 4134 people slept rough on any one night in England, double the number from 2010 and largely thought to be an underestimate. 114,790 families applied to their local council for homelessness assistance in 2015/16 with 57,730 being accepted. It is easy to become hard to these grim statistics, to immunise ourselves to the stories that lay behind each statistic and to doubt that meaningful change is possible. However, our faith teaches us to have the confidence to speak out when we see injustice and to offer hope and practical support to those in need.

 

All the indications suggest that the challenges for those in housing need are likely to increase over the next few years, meaning that the work Housing Justice does will become more and more important. As poverty grows in suburban areas, there are new challenges for how those communities respond. As inflation grows, wages remain stagnant and welfare declines. We may well see yet more grim statistics. As changes to immigration legislation start to take effect, it is likely that we will see more destitute migrants. As the Government tries to meet its commitments to building affordable housing, there will be more calls for underused land. Faith Communities, churches and Housing Justice must continue to bring hope and practical support to those in need in the challenging years to come.

 

I join Housing Justice having spent my working life working in housing and homelessness services. Most recently I was Regional Head at St Mungo’s, but I’ve also previously worked for a YMCA, The Guinness Partnership, Sanctuary, Servite and within Local Government. Throughout my working life those principles of hope and practical support for those in need have been paramount. These same principles led me to become a volunteer in my local Church and Community Winter Night Shelter, becoming the first chair of trustees of the project. We worked closely with Housing Justice in our Church Winter Night Shelter, so I have seen first-hand the difference this work can make.

 

As I start my tenure as Chief Executive, I am struck by the faithfulness of Housing Justice’s supporters. Without their prayers, donations and thoughtfulness none of the work the organisation does, and the difference it makes, would be possible. At Housing Justice, we concentrate on the work that cannot be funded by the Government, helping people who have fallen through the net, are unable to access state support or who need something more than what services commissioned by Local Authorities can provide. We also don’t receive large sums from the Church or other denominations. So we, and the people we help, depend on the gifts of individuals, donations from Religious Orders and collections from parishes and congregations. Our Lenten appeal to support the work we do and help us meet the challenges of the future is currently taking place. You can find details of how to support us at www.housingjustice.org.uk.

 

It seems appropriate that the transition at Housing Justice is taking place during Lent, a time of reflection before the new beginning of Easter. As Housing Justice begins a new chapter, I ask for your prayers for our small but committed team, for Alison in her retirement, for our projects and above all for those who Housing Justice was the set up to assist – the homeless.

 

This article first appeared in the CSAN ‘Caritas in Action’ column in the Catholic Times on 14.04.17

Marriage Care: Helping couples rediscover joy in love

 By Elizabeth Davies, Director of Volunteer Recruitment, Training and Formation at Marriage Care 

A year ago, on April 8th, the long-awaited papal exhortation The Joy of Love was finally published, concluding two and a half years of worldwide consultation and deliberation on marriage and family life. The document’s key themes of mercy, discernment and pastoral accompaniment are well lodged in our hearts now, though, like Mary, we may still be pondering (and no doubt will continue to do so for some time yet) their fullest meaning and implication for our pastoral practices.

This time last year, Marriage Care’s Chair of Trustees, Kit Dollard, welcomed the Pope’s reference to ‘new pastoral methods’, saying that “we hope to take a central role in making this a reality in our dioceses”. At the same time Marriage Care was entering into a research partnership with Roehampton University, supported by the Charles Plater Trust. We aimed to explore how Marriage Care’s Catholic ethos shapes the way we provide, and couples experience, our services. We wanted to see more clearly how our work embodies Catholic social thought and to discern where our own pastoral methods might be renewed.

We know from research that it is couples from lower socio-economic backgrounds who are most likely to experience relationship distress. We know also that a healthy couple relationship improves their own and their children’s life-chances. So the information, skills, time and space we offer through our marriage preparation courses all help to relieve relationship poverty by equipping couples for healthier relationships, enabling them to reflect together on their relationship, values, sacrament and future. Equally our relationship counselling services, offered regardless of ability to pay, are there for the more difficult times, especially for those who live below the poverty line.  In this way, our work clearly offers an ‘option for the poor’. However, we also found other ways in which Marriage Care’s work reflects Catholic social teaching.

Among these were questions of solidarity. As Pope Francis has said recently, it takes great courage today to get married.  We know that many couples have experienced the effects of marriage breakdown and fear it for themselves. A sense of uncertainty and vulnerability can hold them back from giving themselves totally to each other in complete trust. We want to be a source of hope for them, so that no matter what difficulties they encounter, they learn it is possible to work through them, even if sometimes that means accessing professional support. One couple told us that their experience of our marriage preparation day “opened both of our eyes. That is something that will stick with me. Whereas before I would have seen counselling, as [something] you only go [to] when you’re really in trouble.”

Our volunteers were also interviewed as part of the study. Their responses highlighted a deep concern for the dignity of each person, a welcoming and non-judgmental attitude that is woven throughout the process and content of our courses. In many ways, we seem to represent the ‘smiling face’ of the Church to the couples we meet: “It’s almost like us opening a door that they may decide they want to come through later.” “We’re there to show that they’re welcome and it doesn’t matter where they are at the moment, we’re just glad that they’re coming back now; even if it’s only temporary.”

We found too that Marriage Care supports the call to community, family and participation that underpins all Catholic social thought. Our work waters and fertilises the seeds of the domestic Church, which have been planted by God through the relationship of the couple with each other.  What we recognised was that not only is the ‘spirit at work’ within the confines of the marriage preparation day, FOCCUS© sessions and in counselling sessions, but that there is also preparation going on spiritually within the couples before and after: “I walked away from it not feeling like someone had tried to sort of convert me … I found it engaging … I thought it was good.”

In a recent address in Belfast, Cardinal Vincent Nichols noted two central axioms of Pope Francis’ vision for the Church: time is greater than space and reality is more important than ideas. At the heart of these two axioms, he said, are the need to supply a concrete sense of belonging to those we serve and a respectful regard for the reality of a person’s life.  Marriage Care is already guided by these principles and making them a reality in dioceses. In the next phase of this research project we aim to facilitate a series of local conversations to further enable our volunteers to discover this. At a national level, we are examining the formation implications of this research for ourselves and for the wider Church community.

Marriage Care delivers counselling and marriage preparation services through a network of 53 centres, more than 100 counselling locations and the sheer dedication of over 700 professionally trained and accredited volunteers.

If you are interested in volunteering for Marriage Care please visit www.marriagecare.org.uk

If you would like to make an appointment for marriage preparation or for counselling, please use our Freephone number 0800 389 3801

This article first appeared in the CSAN ‘Caritas in Action’ column in the Catholic Times on 07.04.17

Seeking Sanctuary: Speaking out on behalf of ‘strangers’

Phil Kerton, Co-Director of Seeking Sanctuary (CSAN Member Charity)

I start to write this on a ferry heading towards Calais, a journey often made when representing my employers on European collaborations. But, unlike about twenty other voyages during the past couple of years, this one is not for business, nor for shopping or dining in France. I’m again delivering goods to one of the Calais warehouses for distribution to needy migrants across France and beyond. I’m also taking a cheque to a project that has been supported by Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN), the “migrants’ wardrobe” of Secours Catholique – approximately France’s Christian Aid – currently harassed by the local council and national riot police.

It’s not too difficult as I live only an hour’s drive from Dover. What is tough is seeing and hearing about the sorry state of thousands making dangerous journeys to flee violence and poverty, only to end up blocked from further travel towards their chosen goal. They may be misguided in choosing Britain as a destination – reaching Calais some do not know that there is another sea crossing to make – but they arrive cold, hungry, weary and unwashed and usually with shoes and clothes worn to tatters.

Many think that “Calais is over – the migrant camp has gone.” But the recent episode of the “Jungle” was only the most recent in the decades-long saga of the arrival of exiles. Although thousands were dispersed across France as November began, people remain in the camp near Dunkirk, along with a couple of smaller settlements nearby, totalling about 2000. Additional scores of newcomers and returnees turn up daily; about 500 sleep rough in woods and fields around the town or are hidden by sympathisers. The streets of Paris are home to thousands too, who for the present, hesitate to travel further.

A great network for finding and bringing donations to the Calais aid warehouses and kitchens still operates. Some items are often in short supply, volunteer workers are less numerous, and cash donations remain welcome. Money goes toward buying food locally and ordering items in bulk to benefit from wholesale prices and generous discounts.

The former camp developed an amazing society. Smelly in the summer and boggy and partly flooded when winter gales blew in from the sea, its residents always offered warm welcomes and generous hospitality. There were bars, cafés, clubs, gyms, hairdressers, a library and mosques (regularly filled for worshippers marking the daily sequence of prayer). There were also two churches, until French bulldozers demolished the supposedly safe Protestant Church whilst clearing a space around the camp perimeter in May 2016. The Eritrean Orthodox Church remained until the end, with an ever-growing number of impressive icons produced by one of its flock, some now in London.

The scriptures tell many tales of migration, with prophets repeatedly warning rulers that they would be judged by their treatment of the least of their inhabitants – widows, orphans and strangers. The Church has long recognised the right of people to flee war and natural disasters, and the right to try to escape from poverty and seek a better life. Yes: we are called to do what we can to provide constructive help and spiritual support to so-called “economic migrants”, within generous limits. Pope Pius XII wrote a masterly account of the development of Church practice in 1952, when Europeans headed for North America to seek new lives in the aftermath of war. All travellers are human beings, made in God’s likeness. Pope Francis has not invented a new concern, but follows other recent Pontiffs in speaking out on behalf of “the strangers”.

Discovering unprecedented numbers leaving the Middle East and Africa to reach southern Europe, the European Union seemed ill prepared and without a plan of solidarity to support the nations at its external frontier. A small proportion arrive at the French coast where they find very little state support, just humanitarian aid from a large number of volunteers. I find a warehouse needing donations and volunteers, as expected, and with kitchens still preparing food despite an official Calais ban on crowds gathering in locations known to migrants. As a consequence, distribution points now move around. One group reported a 20% drop in the number of meals being collected.

I carefully pass by the armed riot police outside the Secours Catholique premises. There are objections to their provision of showers, a necessity for health and individual dignity. The police detain those who use the facility and staff and volunteers are saddened and puzzled that services offered to the sick and vulnerable are being denied to their sisters and brothers in Christ. Please pray for their perseverance in the face of adversity.

 

This article first appeared in the CSAN ‘Caritas in Action’ column in the Catholic Times on 17.03.17

Medaille Trust: A Reflection on the Fight Against Trafficking

Dr Mike Emberson, CEO of Medaille Trust (CSAN Member Charity)

I first became aware of human trafficking and modern slavery in the UK around the year 2000. I later started to believe what I was hearing was true in about 2002.  In 2003 I had the opportunity to tentatively begin some work on the problem with the Salvation Army and then with Migrant Helpline.  In 2011 I was fortunate to be asked to join the Medaille Trust and become part of their, now ten year long, fight against this evil. It’s been quite a journey and it will continue, hopefully for a few more years before I pass the baton to those younger than me.  Younger and less cynical perhaps. Let me explain.

A long, long time ago I was in the Army and was trained to be part of a Field Interrogation Team. We spend much time studying  what was known as the ‘dislocation of expectations’ or how disconcerting and bewildering it can be for events to unfold in a manner one was not prepared for.  Having read a little on the subject of trafficking and having met a few practitioners in the field I knew what to expect and what needed to be done.  It would be a great crusade, a great mission etched in black and white terms, the forces of good all unified together to struggle with the forces of evil, with ultimately, of course, the power of Christ prevailing.

Of course it was not, and still is not, like that.  It never was and it will never be a simplistic, ethically clear issue. First of all victims are human beings not stereotypical examples of an homogenous whole.   They are, in short, not what we want them to be – they are not all beautiful young East European women chained to beds in London brothels, grateful to be rescued and compliant to how we feel they should approach their recovery and sharing our dreams for their futures.  Victims are also aggressive male Poles with alcohol issues, feisty Thai women trying to pay for the education of their children through engaging in prostitution, they are timid Vietnamese boys entangled in criminal gangs who grow cannabis in the house next door to you and whose degree of agency or complicity in the drug trade is hard to establish.

Nor is the environment we operate in what we would like it to be. There’s much talk of partnership, collaboration, shared values and joint working. In reality it is an ugly world of competition and hidden agendas where the focus is often far from a victim’s needs.  There is much to disgust. There is a real feeling that the fight against trafficking with its Government support and funding has attracted some unwelcome additions – the foreign charities arriving with inappropriate models of operation that do not transfer well to the UK setting, the international NGOs who spend the money we given on the bloated salaries of the staff so that they can do more fundraising.  The individuals and agencies posturing for personal or organisational aggrandisement, the neo-vigilante groups and those with hidden agendas around proselytising to the weak and vulnerable or changing laws that have only a tangential connection to trafficking.  The rush to the bottom with some anti- trafficking activities has been inexorable and some of us hunger for the early days when a handful of charities, like the Medaille Trust, worked in the field.  The response then may have been inadequate but it was at least a response of doing things, practical, effective things not posturing.  If only we had the money then that is available now. What we could have done!  I doubt it would have been investing in solving the problem through interpretive dance companies or dinner parties for corporate financiers who might just pay your CEO’s next pay rise if you are obsequious enough.

Why then persist with helping in the anti-trafficking fight?

Because despite everything that has been done the staff of Medaille still hear and see, on a daily basis, the pain and the suffering of victims. The shame and the broken lives. The despair and the fear. The tears and the sobs.  The unbelievable inhumanity of men and women to their brothers and sisters.  ‘The horror, the horror’ of a modern heart of darkness.

So we continue because Christ has given us our instructions in Matthew 25, in James 2 and in the two great commandments to love God and love others. Because, as 1Corinthians tells us, love is patient, kind, protective, trustworthy, hopeful and persevering. It never fails and is not envious, boastful, proud, dishonourable, self-seeking, easily angered nor does it bear grudges.   And it will never be redundant while victims are stretched on their Christ like cross.

And so I plod on with a wry smile in the ‘sure and certain hope’ that somehow, someway, someday I may do a very little good. Bring a ‘little touch of Harry in the night’.  Be able to live with myself, knowing that I could not do so if I did nothing. Deus Vult.

 

This article first appeared in the CSAN ‘Caritas in Action’ column in the Catholic Times on 03.03.17.

Seeking Sanctuary: Conditions worsening in Calais

Phil Kerton of Seeking Sanctuary, the Kent-based charity and member of the Caritas network working with the migrants in Calais and Dunkirk, brings you the latest from Pas-de-Calais.  As Heidi Allen MP stated in a parliamentary debate on Thursday 23rd February 2017, one of the many reasons to help child refugees in Greece and Italy is to prevent “another Calais” situation.

Volunteers in Calais have confirmed that there were probably close to 500 migrants around Calais, swelled daily by both fresh arrivals and returnees. The Paris situation is forecast to become yet more dire soon, as people realise that Germany has largely closed its doors.

The reception centres across France to which people were distributed upon the destruction of the “Jungle” are now closing, and those who have not applied for asylum will again without shelter and will probably make their way towards Paris and Calais. People found sleeping in the open are moved on by police; their bedding is confiscated and left out in the rain, or sprayed with pepper to render it unusable.

Harassment extends to those providing humanitarian aid, especially on the streets of Paris. Secours Catholique (Caritas France) is not immune – people were questioned when two young men were found sheltering from the early morning rain beneath a temporary building module, while waiting for the Calais Day Centre to open. A more detailed account is available at Independent Catholic News.

We have also been told of attempts to prevent access to showers at the association’s ‘wardrobe’ facility in Rue Moscou (where donations of clothes are distributed to refugees). A Town Hall official blocked the entrance with his car, which was replaced by a large rubbish skip (pictured above).

The following Monday, a judge in Lille gave the Calais council 24 hours to remove the rubbish skip. She made no comment upon the legality of the installation of the showers, but was certain that the misuse of the skip was an illegal act. The council said that it accepted the verdict but would continue its efforts to deter migrants from staying in the area. In the meantime, 25 people took showers in peace that Tuesday before the skip was removed on Wednesday afternoon.

In the meantime the Council formally instructed Secours Catholique to cease all building work: too late, as shower installation was complete. Councillors, fearing that Calais will become a stopping point for migrants in transit, issued a statement: “No one denies the distress of people fleeing their country and getting stuck in Calais in the utmost destitution. Today, as in the past, there is no question of the city stigmatising the migrants themselves. Our territory is again penalised by a migratory phenomenon which is not the responsibility of its inhabitants.”

Then, several van-loads of CRS (national riot police, based in Calais for many months) parked nearby. Their official purpose is to stop the activities of people smugglers. Taking care to clear their actions with their superiors by radio, they detained a handful of teenage youths who had intended to get showered. In addition, they arrested a Sécours Catholique staff member who was bringing the migrants to take showers, and a journalist. This suggested that the adults were considered to have breached the legal Code of Entry and Residence of Foreigners and the Right of Asylum, which provides that ‘any person who, by direct or indirect assistance, facilitates or attempts to facilitate the entry, illegal movement or residence of a foreigner in France shall be punished by five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 30,000 Euros’.

Interviews with the frontier police followed, and apparently everyone had a pleasant hour-long conversation before being released without charge, leaving the youths wandering the streets again, in search of shelter.

Didier Degrémont, regional president of Secours Catholique said that the people detained had arrived in one of their vans when police had prevented its entry to their courtyard, then checked IDs and taken everyone away. He commented that the climate in Calais has been tense for some time: “Our actions have always upset the town hall, which is in total denial of the presence of migrants.”  But he stressed that the arrest of an employee, along with the migrants and the journalist was a new step. “It has never been of that nature,” he said. He believes that a repressive system is being established around the Calais migrants, with intimidation in operation to prevent Secours Catholique offering showers for children.

The latest press reports say that ten more youngsters and four adults were detained yesterday as they arrived at Secours Catholique’s premises. They say that all migrants are being denied entry, not just those wanting showers; Secours Catholique are appealing to the human rights ombudsman.

Meantime, warm clothes and bedding are still required, as are volunteers: details of the latest appeal have been published here (last checked 24 February 2017).

Bedding, warm clothes and other items currently listed on the Calais warehouse websites are still required (http://care4calais.org/donate/  and www.helprefugees.org.uk/news/northern-france-latest-needs-3/).  Seeking Sanctuary (www.seekingsanctuary.weebly.com) is always pleased to provide advice about packing goods and getting them to France.

The Catholic Worker house of hospitality in Calais is also in need of volunteers, both short-term (weekends or odd days) and long-term (three months or more, live-in). Tasks include: housekeeping, prayer, cooking, writing, accompanying refugees, helping in English or French, sign-posting, distribution of aid material and befriending. Please contact johanmaertens@hotmail.com if you are interested.

Seeking Sanctuary: Calais crisis has not gone away

Phil Kerton of Seeking Sanctuary, the Kent-based charity and member of the Caritas network working with the migrants in Calais and Dunkirk, brings you the latest from Pas-de-Calais.

We have made recent trips to deliver much-needed goods collected by a number of Church Communities. A very generous donation from a church in North London enabled us to distribute €1,000 to Secours Catholique and to the Catholic Worker House which is doing such vital work in protecting vulnerable migrants in Calais.

All the reports what we heard point to the fact that the crisis in Calais has not gone away – it has merely gone underground. Estimates vary but it is thought that between 200 and 800 people have left the CAO centres (where refugees are processed) to which they were transported in various locations across France, and have returned to Calais.

Here, they are eking out a fragile existence in disused warehouses, in fields and ditches and in other spots where they cannot be seen.

Warm clothes been particularly welcome in the recent freezing temperatures, forming part of the aid which is being distributed discreetly from vans by volunteers, often under cover of darkness.

 

Many unaccompanied minors are also present in Calais, having left the centres to which they were taken in November, often in remote areas of France, and returned to Calais, hoping to join their friends and get to England.

Many of these youngsters have lost hope of being resettled by officials. Consequently they are trying their chances in Calais in dangerous and freezing conditions.

We also hear disturbing reports about the situation in Paris where the number of places in the official shelters is nowhere near enough to match the need and hence many hundreds of migrants are having to brave the cold and freezing conditions on the streets. The warehouses in Calais are delivering much needed supplies to Paris and further afield.

The demand for humanitarian aid is as high as ever – especially for warm clothes, sleeping bags and food.

You can find out more about how to respond through the Calaid-ipedia website.

 

The views expressed in this blog are not CSAN policy.

Change to “culture of homelessness” still needed for prisoners

Katie Milne, Policy, Public Affairs and Communications Assistant 

The Homelessness Reduction Bill, a Private Member’s Bill proposed by Bob Blackman MP, is currently progressing through the Houses of Parliament. In seeking to change the Housing Act of 1996, the Bill is a step in the right direction of reducing the number of homeless people in the UK through improving local authority services. Latest statistics by the Department for Local Communities and Government show that levels of rough sleeping rose by 51% from 2014 to autumn 2016.

The Homelessness Reduction Bill could help local authorities identify and help those faced with losing their homes, but steps still need to be taken to prevent prisoners from becoming homeless once they are released.

On Wednesday 26th January, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness met in the Houses of Parliament to discuss the difficulties prisoners face in finding a home, which add to the UK’s “culture of homelessness”.

Contributions were made by two people who have experienced problems first-hand, Karen and Mike, who now work for the homeless charities Emmaus and Community Voice Council. They described ex-prisoners as being “at the mercy of the local authority” due to a lack of one-to-one advisory sessions on housing before release. They both experienced anxiety in prison over the uncertainty they faced, and stressed how prisoners should be put in touch with a housing service at least 3 to 6 months before their sentence ends. Currently only 2 out of 9 prisoners have a home in place, leading to higher levels of homelessness and re-offending.

Another difficulty which Karen and Mike both experienced was their low priority status. “If you’re healthy, you’re not a priority”, they agreed. A lack of affordable housing means that local authorities cannot help all those in need of a home at the same time. Those with mental health issues, drug and alcohol addiction and women who have children or are pregnant are prioritised. They also said that prisoners should be held in a prison which is in the best location for finding a home, rather than be moved to a different category prison which breaks local links.

Sally Hill, the Deputy Governor at HMP High Down, said that a lack of funding over the last five years has reversed rehabilitative aspects of the justice system. Not a lot can be done to assist prisoners with housing when they are only allowed out of their cell for 45 minutes a day due to low prison staff levels.

The private rented sector is of little help. Ex-prisoners are faced with the task of affording huge deposits, and landlords are unwilling to lower their rents to help local authorities through a shortage of affordable housing.

The problems prisoners face in finding a home are numerous and linked to rising levels of homelessness. Hopefully, the Homelessness Reduction Bill will act as a safety net before wider change is introduced to provide help to prisoners before they are released.

 

The views expressed in this blog are not CSAN policy.

Caritas cure to isolation

Katie Milne, Policy, Public Affairs and Communications Assistant

Everyone feels lonely from time to time. However, there is a difference between feeling lonely and being isolated – cut off from friends, family and communities against your will.

Improved life expectancy is one of the greatest achievements of the last century. 17.7% of the UK’s population now consists of those aged 65 or over, and the proportion of those aged 90 or over has been steadily increasing since the early 1980s.

While living longer is a cause for celebration, an increase in the elderly population may also be a cause for concern. The rise in the number of older people having to provide unpaid care, those experiencing bereavement and long-term conditions has led to an increase in social isolation. Latest figures by AgeUK reveal that currently 200,000 older people have not had a conversation with friends or family for a month, and that 3.9 million older people agree that their television is their main source of company.

Isolation severely impacts on health. Not only does the emotional distress caused increase the risk of developing mental health problems such as depression, but also the likelihood of worse physical wellbeing. It is now considered that social isolation is as harmful to a person’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. This is worrying not only for older people themselves, but also for the sustainability of the NHS as the demand for services increases.

However, isolation may be reduced by the remedy of Christian service – as highlighted by a recent paper titled ‘Doing Good: A Future for Christianity in the 21st Century’ by the think tank Theos. Practical love for our neighbours, through our love for God, possesses the ability to relieve isolation in a challenging political landscape by encouraging the flourishing of human relationships.

Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN) member charities carry out effective support for older people through building relationships. Caritas Salford run the St Joseph’s Welfare and Befriending centre in North Manchester. A dedicated team provide help with shopping, appointments, utilities, contacting family members and befriending. Catholic Care in Leeds also offer emotional and practical support. Community outreach services and groups provide regular conversation and a listening ear, as well as support with fitness and personal care. Father Hudson’s Care run the Maryvale Community Project in Birmingham, which provides older people with the opportunity to take part in karaoke, quiz nights, crafts and day trips at lunch and social clubs.

The growing problem of isolation presents a significant challenge to mental and physical health across the county, and therefore to Government policy. However, Caritas agencies deliver vital relief grounded in Christian charity, and offer a promising future.

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The views expressed in this blog are not CSAN policy.

Sailors supported after dramatic sea rescue

The Apostleship of the Sea (AoS), a CSAN member charity, provided support to a group of seafarers after their colleague fell ill on board and had to be airlifted to hospital last Friday.

A bulk carrier, HC Jette Marit, was stationed four miles east of Sunderland when its chief engineer suffered a possible heart attack on board and the alarm was raised, prompting a dramatic rescue at sea.

AoS Port of Tyne chaplain Paul Atkinson received a tip-off about the incident and contacted AoS Sunderland ship visitor Sr Mary Scholastica, who boarded the ship to assist the crew as soon as it docked at Sunderland Port.

“The crew members were a bit anxious and worried about their colleague but otherwise they were fine. They were grateful someone had taken the time to visit them and offer support if needed,” said Sr Scholastica said.

Seafarers work and live together within confined spaces, often for long durations of time.  Incidents like this one can trigger stress and anxiety, making it all the more important that they are supported not only practically but  emotionally.

Separately, AoS Plymouth port chaplain Ann Donnelly has expressed relief after seven seafarers were rescued from their sinking ship, Fluvius Tamar, off Ramsgate on the Kent coast over the weekend.

The Fluvius Tamar and its sister ship Fluvius Axe are regular visitors to ports in the South West of Britain and their crews are well known to Ann and her ship visitors.

“Thank God they were all rescued safely. Incidents like this highlight the dangers that seafarers constantly encounter while doing their jobs bringing us the goods and necessities we buy.”

 

The views expressed in this blog are not CSAN policy.