Housing plight of the vulnerable

A small kitchen space and one cooker which has to be shared by up to 20 people.

Story by John Grayson and Violet Dickinson | Photos by John Grayson

Women and young children are being placed routinely in shared hostels with vulnerable homeless single men. Women, forced to share bathrooms and kitchens with men they don’t know, have faced intimidation and racist abuse. This is happening locally in Burngreave.

The following examples show the fear, the stress, the indignity that vulnerable women and children have suffered at a local B&B in Burngreave:

  • Esther and her 6 year old daughter shared a small cramped room with bunk beds and hardly any storage space. She stored food in the room as there were no locked cupboards in the kitchen which was shared by up 20 people. Esther, a survivor of trafficking from West Africa said that she was frightened for her daughter as the man, in the next room, who she thought was a drug user, used to bang on the wall at night.
  • Another woman with mental health problems was living in a small box room with a tiny, inadequate window.
  • Carol, also from West Africa, said she hated the hostel and was seriously worried by the drunken men around the property at the weekends. The worst time for the families was queuing for the toilets and showers – men, women and children together.
  • Once, waiting in the queue, Dinah and her daughter heard screams and doors banging and a naked man came in and joined the queue.
  • Some men had asked the women for money and had used racist language.
  • In another case, a father was housed with his five children in one room.
A small kitchen space and one
cooker which has to be shared
by up to 20 people.

Councils are obliged by law to avoid placing pregnant women or families with children in B&Bs except as a last resort, and then for no longer than six weeks. Campaigners at South Yorkshire Migrant & Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG) know of women and children housed unlawfully in potentially dangerous B&B accommodation for months, and some for years.

No recourse to public funds

Julie Dore, Leader of the Council explained that families, whose first applications for asylum have been refused, have ‘no recourse to public funds.’ This means the housing department cannot provide accommodation under existing housing law. However, children’s social services still owes a duty of care to the children. Why are people from certain countries treated differently, when it is recognised that hostels are regarded as unacceptable for any length of time for vulnerable women and children?

SYMAAG presented a petition to the full council meeting in February demanding that the Council immediately review their use of certain B&Bs in the city, including in Burngreave, to ensure that families are not subjected to mixed gender hostel accommodation, and to demonstrate that hostel accommodation is totally unsuitable for families; and in many cases is actually dangerous.

From purely a financial perspective, the costs of a B&B will be much greater than paying for a council run temporary housing scheme. The mayor of Liverpool has pledged to treat homeless people ‘with no recourse to public funds’ just the same as any other homeless person.

Councillor Drayton, Chair of the Children, Young People, and Families Committee has stated that ‘Children’s Services do not support bed & breakfast accommodation for families and work to prevent this wherever possible. The cases of women ‘who had been in B&Bs for over 12 months were unacceptable, and a review was underway.’ SYMAAG wants an apology to the families concerned and a commitment from the Council to stop using the particular B&B highlighted in the petition.

Abridged and reprinted with permission, from https://tinyurl. com/SYMAAG

All names of refugees and refugee children, and interviewees, have been changed.