Some of the saddest cases we come across are when parents with children find themselves with no safe place to sleep. Heartbreakingly, they are often forced to separate from their children to spare them from sleeping rough and the situation can be incredibly distressing for both parent and child. Lavonne became homeless along with her one-year-old daughter in 2002. She had moved to the UK from Jamaica to be with her daughter's father, but he became abusive and after just five months Lavonne and her daughter were forced to leave. Lavonne had nowhere to go; her lack of legal status meant she couldn't seek work or welfare. She depended on friends to put them up for the night and recalls one occasion when she had no idea where they were going to sleep: I remember I was pushing my daughter along in her buggy and came across a phone box. I prayed that I might find 20p on the street so that I could phone someone. I found 50p on the windowsill of a pub and called a friend, but they couldn't take me in for the night. Thankfully, with only 30p left, the second friend I called offered us a place to sleep
When her daughter was three, Lavonne came to the difficult realisation that she couldn't put her through the constant upheaval anymore, but she couldn't bear to be permanently separated from her. She had met a woman called Valerie, through a friend, who was willing to look after her daughter. Valerie would provide a safe place for Lavonne's daughter to live during the week, and Lavonne would be reunited with her at the weekends. Being apart was extremely difficult for both mother and child, and Lavonne's daughter struggled to come to terms with the situation. But knowing her daughter had a safe place to sleep was a huge relief.
Lavonne's daughter lived with Valerie for six years; throughout that period Lavonne had tried and failed to resolve her own immigration status. When Valerie faced family problems of her own, her daughter was forced to move in with her father. During that time her daughter was granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK, and in 2010 Lavonne was able to reclaim custody of her. Her daughter's immigration status added a new element to Lavonne's own case.
In 2011 Lavonne sought immigration advice from the Cardinal Hume Centre. Sophia, the Centre's immigration advice manager, worked with Lavonne on her case. She advised her to get in touch with social services to request support for her and her daughter. Social services eventually offered a room in a B&B to Lavonne and her daughter, a success which Lavonne attributes entirely to Sophia's devotion to helping them: Sophia emailed them back and forth, she just would not take no for an answer.
Despite the poor conditions in the B&B Lavonne was extremely grateful to have a place for her and her daughter to live. It wasn't ideal, but all Lavonne could think of when they first moved in was how grateful she was to finally have a bed after so many years of sleeping on the floor. Sophia submitted a new Home Office application for Lavonne, based around her daughter's right to remain status, and supported Lavonne throughout the drawn-out process. Sophia: Lavonne is a very proactive and quick acting client. She really wants to work, but she wants to do it legally.
Her case is an example of Home Office delays in their decision making. They went against their own appeal policies. In August 2014, Lavonne finally received her right to remain. Her new status has allowed her to receive benefits to help her support her daughter while she looks for work; and Lavonne has just started volunteering at Lewisham hospital: Before I came to the Cardinal Hume Centre I was distraught. I was sleeping rough. I just wanted to give up. I looked at my daughter and I couldn't provide for her the way I wanted to. It killed me. I'm so grateful for Sophia's determination. If it wasn't for the Cardinal Hume Centre I would still be homeless with my daughter and having immigration problems. The Centre has changed my life drastically. I can work now, I can volunteer, and I can give back. I'm not worried anymore. A stock image has been used.