Within the space of a week, my parents welcomed Ukrainian refugees, Kate, 26, and Daryna, 20, as well as 74-year-old Jenny*, a West African woman who is seeking sanctuary in the UK.
Then – just two months later in June last year – I was forced to move back home too. That means there’s now six of us living under the same roof.
We’re all very different people, but I have come to learn that my new housemates and I have one big thing in common – we represent a snapshot of how our government is failing when it comes to the housing crisis and supporting those seeking sanctuary in the UK.
So how did this happen?
My parents have four grown-up children but only three of us have managed to live independently (myself not included), which meant my parents were fortunate enough to have three spare bedrooms.
A number of years ago, they started conversations with London-based charity, Housing Justice, about hosting someone in need who would be at risk of facing homelessness. Due to a variety of reasons – weddings, a badly-behaved dog and the pandemic – it took until April last year to complete the process and be matched with Jenny.
Due to the sensitive nature of her story and her active case with the Home Office, I am not allowed to say much about Jenny or how she came to live with my parents, but what I can tell you is that she is an incredibly strong woman.
Jenny is West African and a survivor of modern-day slavery, but has been left destitute due to repeated Home Office failures that make it impossible for her to secure stable accommodation.
She has been in the UK for many years and – along with around 117,000 other unresolved asylum cases, as of September last year – is awaiting a decision from the Home Office before she can live independently here. Despite lawyers and constant chasing, the repetitive response of ‘we are looking at her case’ leaves a frustrating open-ended uncertainty for both Jenny and my parents.
That’s the first example of how the Government is failing a person living under the same roof as me.
Just a few months before Jenny came to stay with my parents, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine – almost exactly one year ago. As a result, the Tories encouraged us to open our homes to people fleeing the war through the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme.
Moved by the extensive media coverage – and connected through friends of friends on Facebook – my parents decided to host two young Ukrainian women, Kate and Daryna.
The Ukrainian girls fled their home within a week of war breaking out. They are close family friends and stayed together in a youth hostel in the Czech Republic before arriving at my parents’ home in April.
Daryna – who was studying law – now works at a restaurant, while Kate – who is an interior designer – has a job in a café.
They have found it difficult to settle in the UK and the constant news cycle about events back home is something they cannot pull themselves away from. But they are doing incredibly well to live away from their country, loved ones and friends.
It just so happened that Jenny, Kate and Daryna all moved in during the same week.
Now we come to my own story.
Up until April of last year, I was living with three friends in a house in London when we were served a section 21 notice by our former landlord who wanted to hike the price of our rent.
We loved our home and community and were extremely upset when this happened.
By June, we had to move out because, even though former PM Theresa May promised in 2019 to scrap no-fault evictions, that hasn’t come to fruition yet. That means that renters are still getting turfed out of their homes without much protection.
The housing crisis in the UK continues to be one of the biggest challenges this country faces. Example two of the Tories failing us.
I am incredibly lucky to have the fallback option of my parents’ accommodation in London, but I had not planned to move back into my childhood bedroom as a 27-year-old young professional with three new comparative strangers as housemates.
Nevertheless, by June of last year, my childhood home was back to six people under one roof – just without any of my siblings.
In many ways, the dynamic is similar to how you might imagine life in university halls or a 90s sitcom to be – a mix of people with little in common living together. We share the occasional meal or film night, but mostly we have our own lives.
Jenny loves cooking, going to church on Sundays and watching Ghanaian Christian worship music on YouTube. It has been a joy to live with her these last six months and she makes a delicious chicken stew.
Kate is often on FaceTime to her husband who is in Ukraine and she loves a good Netflix binge. While Daryna has thrown herself into dancing lessons from a Ukrainian teacher in Camden and has discovered Love Island.
Like any housemates, we have frustrations over the shower being free and whose turn it is to take out the bins.
But over the past six months, the mix of cultures, personalities and more has been incredibly eye-opening. When asked by Hinge dates ‘Who do you live with?’, my answer never fails to surprise.
The Government’s rhetoric around refugees, asylum seekers and those seeking sanctuary in the UK is inhumane
But Jenny, Daryna and Kate should all have more support through social workers giving them clear guidance and transparency on plans about how the Government will fulfil their promises to help them live independently.
Sure, my parents receive £350 a month to help with costs as part of the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme (although the payment is per household, regardless of how many refugees live there and is distributed by the local council).
Jenny, meanwhile, lives off around £40 a week provided by a charity, as she is not eligible to receive the same benefits as the Ukrainian women.
I feel it is important to recognise the stark difference in the support the Home Office offers Jenny compared to our Ukrainian guests. Examples of this include their visa statuses, right to work and other financial benefits. The differences are not only in government policy but also in our society and our attitudes to those seeking asylum.
Rightly so, the nation has opened their hearts and homes to Ukrainians fleeing war, but I can’t help but wonder why the same did not happen for Afghanistan just months before and just how unwelcomed Jenny has been over her 20 years in this country?
Similarly, the Government’s rhetoric around refugees, asylum seekers and those seeking sanctuary in the UK is inhumane. If Home Secretary Suella Braverman spent a few nights at my house eating Jenny’s chicken stew, her toxic language and desire to help might just change for the better.
While my parents have repeatedly said how fortunate they were to have had amazing support from Housing Justice to guide them on how to navigate the multiple unknowns that come with hosting someone in need, they did not receive this same training from the Government through the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme.
The Tories promised the scheme would support hosts and help refugees to live independently in the UK. But almost a year on, fellow hosts at support groups we attend all share the same opinion – the Government has broken its promise, failed to provide adequate guidance or support, and left local councils to clear up the mess.
There is now talk about a deficit of host families who are willing to take people, which is arguably due to the open-ended nature of the scheme.
So what needs to change?
Those in charge need to do more to explain what they can offer in terms of helping Ukrainians to move on from host families and settle in the UK, as the conflict shows no end in sight. They need to work with landlords and local councils to support Ukrainians to find suitable independent living and subsidise it where needed.
The housing crisis in the UK also means that Kate and Daryna are forced to join the rest of us in the race to find a flat on SpareRoom, with ludicrous rates or being made to take rooms without contracts or seeing the spaces first.
This is daunting enough for me and I have lived in London my whole life, let alone if I was a refugee who had only been here for less than a year.
We need clear guidance from the Government on the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme and to learn how ministers plan to provide long-term solutions to the problems that have arisen.
On top of this, the Home Office needs to hurry up and progress Jenny’s case so she can finally live independently after 20 years. We are grateful to our local MP for helping us apply pressure, but the backlog is unacceptable.
My parents have been incredibly generous to open their home but they expect the Government to deliver on their promises, which I have learnt first-hand there are countless ways they are not.
People in this country – whether they were born here or not – deserve so much more.
If you are interested in finding out more about hosting with Housing Justice, visit their website here. You can also follow Flo Brookes on Twitter here.
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