Winter appeal helping homeless refugees desperate for survival in the North East

Written by on 6th December 2023

In the heart of the North East, the Action Foundation, a beacon of hope for refugees, now faces an alarming increase in homelessness referrals.

And as winter’s icy grip tightens, the urgency of the situation intensifies. Action Foundation has now launched a winter appeal called Raise the Roof for Refugees to support the refugees and asylum seekers using its accommodation services; drop-in and free English language classes.

According to Action Foundation, the rise is due to the Home Office’s efforts to clear the asylum backlog by the end of December. The reality unfolded starkly in the charity’s Lettings project, where, in the span of just two months—September to November—referrals skyrocketed from a mere three to a staggering 109.

Vicky Miller, Business Development Manager with Action Foundation said: “We are in a perfect storm of lack of housing, increased homelessness and refugees being given less than two weeks to find somewhere to live once they have been evicted from asylum accommodation.”

Micheal, 37 a refugee who made his way from Ethiopia to the UK in search of sanctuary. He looked for help from his local council for housing, only to discover that no options were available.

In September and November this year, the charity's Lettings project, offering accommodation for newly recognised refugees, received 109 referrals.

In September and November this year, offering accommodation for newly recognised refugees, received 109 referrals.

The husband and father, who left his family to seek safety, found himself compelled to shuffle between nights spent at a friend’s cramped flat and enduring the harsh reality of sleeping outdoors on the cold, hard ground.

He said: “I slept outside Gateshead Interchange (a bus station). Sleeping outside is very hard, cold, horrible and it’s smelly.

“It’s no good for anybody. People don’t talk to you. They don’t say anything, they ignore you. No one asks, ‘Why you sleep here?’ Nobody talk to me.”

In June 2022, Michael experienced a sense of relief after being granted refugee status. However, faced with the challenge of homelessness, he turned to Action Foundation for assistance who were able to secure a room for him in one of their Gateshead properties.

He said: “I shared with two Sudanese men and we had our own rooms and a shared living room, kitchen and bathroom. I feel happy. I say so much thanks because I don’t have to sleep outside.”

Each week, Micheal would meet with his Action Foundation support worker, Jen, who provided invaluable assistance, such as helping him register at a GP’s office, navigate entitlement applications, and address queries related to his family reunion claim with the Home Office.

This year in September, Micheal received the heartwarming news that his wife and child were approved to join him in the UK, marking the beginning of a proper family life. Jen played a crucial role in facilitating this reunion by aiding Micheal with primary school applications, ensuring readiness for their arrival, and even sourcing uniforms for his six year old child.

Additionally, she assisted in the process of bidding for social housing, leading to their relocation to a two-bedroom council flat in September. The family are beginning to settle into their new life on Tyneside.

He said: “We make friends here. It’s quiet, not too noisy. If I speak to someone, someone talks to me. That’s why I live here – it’s friendly, it’s good. The accent is difficult, but I try, I think I am an adopted Geordie!”

Action Foundation, Newcastle-based charity, aids refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants in the North East, preventing homelessness, enhancing skills.

Action Foundation, Newcastle-based charity, aids refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants in the North East, preventing homelessness, enhancing skills.

The crisis is not confined to Newcastle but one that is being replicated across the UK as local authorities, charities and specialist housing providers struggle to face the unavoidable consequence of the Home Office’s decision according to the Action Foundation.

Prior to August this year, as soon as a person was granted refugee status they would receive 28 days to claim Universal Credit and find somewhere to live. Refugee organisations say that was hard enough.

However, in the last few months, this move-on period has been drastically cut with refugees in some places receiving as little as seven days’ notice to quit.

Tareq Ghaleb, a Support Officer with the charity’s InterAction Drop-in said: “There’s currently a lot of people rough sleeping because the Government promised that at the end of 2023, they will close all pending asylum claims.

“They are tackling that and issuing a huge number of asylum seekers with leave to remain. This is good but it is having a huge impact on local councils who do not have the houses to cover these numbers.

“Some councils have said they can only house families, which means single men – the majority of our client base – are left out on the streets. They can’t rent private houses because they don’t have jobs (you are not legally allowed to work whilst your asylum claim is pending).

“When you go to a private landlord they require a guarantor, references and sometimes six months of employment history and payslips. It is adding additional trauma to already traumatised people. They don’t feel secure.”

Action Foundation has also been designated a Wellbeing Hub by Newcastle City Council which means refugees and asylum seekers can access a warm space Monday to Thursday and escape the cold.

For further information on the work of Action Foundation visit 

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