Thelma Ndaula is one of Say It Loud Club’s trustees, Head of Ambassador Program and currently volunteers as Housing Project Manager. As part of our #noplacelikehome campaign, we caught up with her about the challenging facing Say It Loud Club members with regards to housing.
Welcome Thelma! To start, could you tell us a little more about the work you do as Say It Loud Club’s Housing Project Manager?
Of course! On a day-to-day basis, it’s a lot of coordinating between members – i.e. those needing housing – and our partners such as Notting Hill Genesis. When our partners like NHG tell us they have a property available, I help organise viewings, make the introductions with a member candidate, and fill in all the paperwork.
In terms of who gets a house when it becomes available, that’s based on a lot of different factors – location, affordability, the current need of our members among them. Whatever the case, it’s always emotional, especially when you’re placing members who have previously been homeless. We’re so grateful to our partners.
Give us the basics – what are the challenges that asylum seekers face with regard to housing?
When you arrive in the UK, you’re deemed an illegal immigrant and detained. After a while you might get help from charities or go to different hostels. That’s the start of a lengthy process to be granted refugee status by the Home Office – essentially, it needs to be decided that you have a genuine reason to be fearful of returning to your own country. Until that happens, you can’t rent, access education, open a bank account, or get a job officially.
Even when you have your Legalised Refugee Status confirmed – and that can take around 5 years – to rent privately or get social housing you have to have lived here a certain time, or be able to show you’ve been working. It’s a Catch-22 situation. How can you show you’ve been working if you haven’t been able to get a job? Or show you’ve been here without any records?
People in both groups – those with and without their official papers – end up living in shared accommodation, potentially with other refugees, or with friends of friends. Rough sleeping is unfortunately a huge challenge.
Why is housing such a hard thing for LGBTQ+ refugees?
Not only are they faced with the sometimes impossible task of proving their sexuality or gender status to the Home Office to get their refugee status confirmed; they are often living in cramped accommodation with people (perhaps from their original country) who are hostile to these statuses.
We’ve had members whisper in bathrooms on the phone to us because it’s the only way they cannot be overheard. It’s heartbreaking.
This is horrific. Why haven’t these issues been resolved yet?
Frankly, it isn’t a major priority for the UK government. There isn’t budget allocated to it. Until there is unity between the Home Office (who have the final say in people’s refugee statuses), councils (who have the means to house people), and charities like SILC (who work directly on behalf of the refugees), the problem won’t be solved.
What role does Covid-19 have in all this?
The lack of privacy issue is exacerbated. Everyone’s been at home more, particularly during the official lockdown periods, which means fewer opportunities for us to liaise with our members and check how they’re doing.
There’s also a huge mental health toll. Not having a place to feel yourself is always hard – but before we could at least have members come to our base in King’s Cross, give them lunch and a forum to talk. That’s gone now. Keep in mind the accommodation people are living in is often without WiFi too. We’re losing touch with people rapidly, and that’s terrifying.
Why is a focus on housing and homeless needed right now?
Homelessness is an issue for up to 85% of our members. During the winter months, it’s colder – sleeping rough brings even more health concerns.
How can supporters of Say It Loud Club can help?
The first thing is the most obvious – donations. This can be done via PayPal on our website, and money goes towards’ our members’ transportation, emergency housing and communications costs. It’s vital to have this coming in.
The second is furniture and housing items. Even when members get somewhere to stay, they lack the means to furnish it. We’ve now got a self-storage space and a driver, so if anyone reading this has appliances, living or bedroom furniture they no longer need – I’m sure one of our members will be very happy to have it!