This Refugee Week (14-18 June) our Co-Director of Care, Health and Wellbeing, Charlotte Murray, shares more information about our growing partnership with ASSIST – a Sheffield based organisation who work with people who are seeking sanctuary and who have been refused asylum. 

“Navigating the asylum system and finding the appropriate legal support is complex at the best of times, and nigh on impossible if you don’t know where you are going to sleep or where the next meal is going to come from.”

Jochen Kortlaender
Accommodation Manager for ASSIST Sheffield

The theme of Refugee Week 2021 is We Cannot Walk Alone, a line from Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech. I’m a firm believer that no human – or organisation for that matter – survives alone. Together with Jochen Kortlaender (Accommodation Manager for ASSIST Sheffield) we hope to deliver a new feasibility study called Filling the Void, which has been funded by Crisis.  

ASSIST Sheffield provides accommodation, information and other support. ASSIST has a 17-year history of amazing work with asylum seekers in our city. For the past two years, as part of our work as a Homes of Cathy member, South Yorkshire Housing Association (SYHA) has been working with ASSIST and learning from their expertise to help contribute to ending migrant homelessness.

We’re not alone. In 2007, Sheffield became the first City of Sanctuary in the UK and, in addition to ASSIST Sheffield, lots of organisations now take pride in the welcome it offers to people in need of safety and the provision of exceptional services and support.    

Covid-19 has been hard for everyone, but for people with no recourse to public funds – and the organisations that support them – it has been crippling. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the night shelter that ASSIST ran in a church hall in Sheffield had to close and remains closed. This previously provided essential emergency night-time accommodation for people who had no recourse to public funds.  

The Filling the Void feasibility study does what it says on the tin. Working with ASSIST, and drawing on insight from NACCOM and others, over the past two months we’ve been looking at the feasibility of using SYHA properties that are void (empty) to provide short-term emergency accommodation via ASSIST for asylum seekers.     

In theory this sounds straightforward and a total no-brainer but, as with any good feasibility study, the devil is in the detail. Luckily, we’ve been guided by expert project manager, Oliver Chamberlain, who has extensive experience of working with both ASSIST and SYHA in the past. In addition, our 2 years partnership with ASSIST has ensured that the Filling the Void project is building on a firm relationship, trust and understanding between housing (SYHA) and ASSIST. 

So what have been the challenges? The feasibility is ongoing but the main things so far include:   

Housing availability/location. We don’t have many void properties in central Sheffield that aren’t turned around very quickly and re-let. Demand is higher than ever. 

HMOs. To ensure ASSIST can meet the demand for emergency accommodation, and asylum seekers can support each other, HMOs (Houses in Multiple Occupation) are desirable. These properties require additional safety requirements. Transforming a general needs property into an HMO is too time-consuming and expensive to provide short-term accommodation. 

State of properties. Often properties are void because they require major repairs and are unsuitable for habitation. 

Bills, insurance, lease agreements. Smaller issues including who pays the council tax and utility bills on the property and how the management agreement should be formulated to ensure compliance have presented challenges. 

Despite this, we have identified a couple of HMO properties in Sheffield which are void, and would otherwise remain so, as SYHA assesses them for disposal or redevelopment. We’re working with ASSIST on the details but hope that these properties will provide much needed short-term emergency accommodation via Assist for people with no recourse to public funds in Sheffield. This will be especially important as we exit from Covid-19. 

We’ll keep working with ASSIST on the Filling the Void project and our wider partnership to ensure that we walk the talk in helping to contribute to ending migrant homelessness. Together we are stronger and we cannot walk alone. 

If other Housing Providers would like to support this project, please get in touch. People can donate to ASSIST here

From Jochen Kortlaender, Accommodation Manager for ASSIST Sheffield.

“It’s been a tough year for the charity and especially the people we are supporting. Although the Home Office suspended its usual policy of evicting people with refused asylum claims into destitution at the start of the pandemic, attempts to reintroduce evictions were made at various points throughout the year, causing tremendous anxiety to sanctuary seekers in Sheffield and beyond. Luckily the most recent announcement about the restart of the policy was withdrawn by the Home Office in late May following a challenge in the High Court. 

Still, we anticipate evictions to restart in the near future and won’t be able to operate our previous night shelter model in a Covid-secure way. The work that we are undertaking with SYHA under ‘Filling the Voids’ is an absolute lifeline as we are trying to find creative ways to replace the bedspaces that we have lost through the closure of the night shelter.  

We know from experience how important the provision of accommodation is, especially in the early stages of destitution. We are very excited about the prospect of being able to offer the people seeking our support temporary emergency accommodation through our partnership with SYHA.”