As many of you will know from media reports, an increasing number of new refugees are facing homelessness and destitution. This is because of recent government policy changes, which mean that new refugees (people who have been granted the right to live in the UK) are now given just seven days’ notice to leave their accommodation. This makes it virtually impossible for them to find a place to live or to access housing or financial support.
New refugees in Cumberland are also falling into this crisis of homelessness. While Carlisle is dealing with small numbers compared to other cities, we do not have established services in place to meet these needs. New refugees facing the sudden prospect of having nowhere to live is a new phenomenon, leaving the local authority without a strategy or adequate provisions in place.
No one should be forced to sleep rough. But the fact is that new refugees are coming to PERN this winter with no alternative but to live on the streets. These people are very vulnerable: refugees experience a higher incidence of mental distress than the wider population; they may have little English language; they may have no family in the UK and no friends with whom they can ‘sofa surf’.
So, reflecting our key value of supporting the most vulnerable, we have taken the decision to prioritise housing and addressing homelessness amongst new refugees. We are now operating in ‘emergency mode’ and our key focus is on keeping people off the street and on working collaboratively to find housing solutions for as many people as we can.
With regard to our services, we are focusing more time and effort on responding to housing and homelessness. PERN Legal and Information has rapidly expanded to help people find urgent housing solutions and PERN English volunteers and students are connecting with people before their eviction day. We have now successfully matched people through the PERN Rent a Room to Refugee scheme, and we would like to encourage others to come forward and find out more about this programme. Please also let us know about any Carlisle rental options that you know of that might suit new refugees. Our Befriending scheme has also now launched. These are the main ways PERN members can support this key work at this critical time, and if you think you can help with either scheme, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
However, we want to be clear that this does not mean that we are reducing our commitment to our other PERN projects, which are continuing to run as usual, including our community outreach projects such as the art and wellbeing workshops, women’s group and weekly English conversation get-togethers.
We may, though, be a little less quick to respond to enquiries, and we are unlikely to be able to take on new projects in the immediate future.
We will review this emergency situation in January.
Thank you again for your support, which has never been more needed.
The Penrith and Eden Refugee Network Team