Image by Lonel Stanciu from Pixabay
In York, over 100 Ukrainian refugees have arrived to be housed by generous local families. Those opening their homes to help those in acute plight are wonderfully kind and will make a real difference. Providing a home is only one part of the equation of support. York City of Sanctuary, Refugee Action York, York City Council, and many other agencies offer additional support for Ukrainian nationals to integrate into York.
The size of the challenge is vast. The number of globally displaced persons has risen to over 100m for the first time ever. To put that into perspective, the total population of the UK is 68m, and the population of Australia is 26m. Their combined populations are still less than the total of displaced persons.
However large a problem is, we have to take Mother Theresa’s approach “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.” Thankfully that is what all the host families are doing in York and around the UK.
The Homes for Ukraine’s scheme seeks to provide a host home for at least 6 months. That is no easy undertaking. A stranger or family of strangers suddenly living in your home. Creating new ways of operating in the kitchen will be a challenge. How to share a fridge? How to cook very different cuisines? The time of day when host or guest family want to eat? In the bathroom, you no longer have impacts from only your family members. How do you share toiletries, or store a more diverse range of items? In the evening, how do host and guest family relax? Is there enough space for each to be comfortable in their own space? What about daily routines? Host families will have a set routine often linked to a working pattern, whereas guest families will initially be unemployed and have different life rhythms. Personalities are complex, even without language barriers. Learning to live with others with other personalities you may not naturality connect with is fine for a couple of weeks, but after 6 months those tensions could potentially rise significantly.
Already some host families have reached the point of requiring guest families to find a new sponsor. In many situations the local council will step in to resolve the situation. But the additional trauma to those who have already had to flee their homes will be significant.
The Homes for Ukraine’s scheme is noble, but when the complications of life arrive, it can be hard to deliver longer term solutions.
What happens after the 6-month hosting period ends? Will guests be forced out of host family homes? How long will funding continue beyond the 6-month period? How easy will it be for Ukrainian guests to find private rental accommodation, particularly in high housing cost areas such as York? Housing benefit may not cover the whole private rental costs. If employment has not been secured, that gap may result in either housing debt accruing or Ukrainian nationals having to move to poorer areas, often where employment opportunities are lower.
Let us not forget refugees from other areas of the world: Afghanistan, Albania, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela and many others. The route to move from asylum status to leave to remain is complex and can take years. Even with a leave to remain permission being granted (requiring new accommodation within 28 days!) that does not always result in recourse to public funds. That means some foreign nationals are prohibited from working or claiming benefits. As you can appreciate the demands of needing to live in accommodation and feed yourself and your family if you cannot work or claim benefits is an enormous challenge.
At Restore York we do not have any simple solutions. Yet we are seeking to step further into this complex space to offer our expertise in supported property management to work alongside altruistic property investors, other local agencies and statutory bodies to create potentially new solutions and opportunities. The power of collaboration may be the way to find new solutions to these complex problems. Will we succeed? I’ve no idea, but to be honest it is worth every effort to explore new possibilities.
Restore York CEO