There are many reasons people become homeless or find themselves in dire straits; abuse, addiction, revenge eviction. What about bureaucracy? While there are safety nets in place to help, some people fall victim to not knowing how the system works and therefore don’t know how to get access to available support. Fortunately, the Cardinal Hume Centre is well versed in the language of red tape. Every day we stop families in poverty from falling through the holes in the net; families like Josef’s.
Josef first came to the Centre in 2010, after fleeing his home country of Eritrea – a country often condemned by the UN for its terrible human rights record. He was granted refugee status and referred to our hostel for homeless young people. The Centre provides homeless people aged 16-25 a safe place to call home for up to a year. During his time here he improved his confidence and English skills, but he hadn’t developed enough to become fully independent, so after a year he moved into another hostel – Bruce House, run by Centrepoint.
In October 2013, the Cardinal Hume Centre opened Basil Hume House; five one bedroom flats attached to our main site. They provide a more long term and independent home for young people who have established a life for themselves in the local area, but may struggle to display the financial stability required to get their own tenancy. Josef was a perfect tenant for the project.
Josef dreamed of being a black cab driver, covering his walls with maps of London to help him get the knowledge. In the meantime he considered himself lucky to have a job on a central construction site. However, his life became a lot more complicated when, in the middle of 2014, he became a father.
He wanted to care for his girlfriend and newborn, but the flats are strictly single occupancy. Without being able to afford the huge costs of a private tenancy, Josef felt he had no choice but to move them in without telling anyone at the Centre.
Of course, he should have known that had he told the housing team they would have simply congratulated him and offered the support needed to find a more suitable home for his family. So when the staff inevitably found out what had happened, that is exactly what they did. Housing officer, Mohammad Najm-Zadeh, who has responsibility for the residents of Basil Hume House, applied to Westminster Housing Options (WHO) on Josef’s behalf in the summer of 2014. However, as unsuitable as his small flat at the Centre was, the fact that he had a flat meant that WHO didn’t categorise the family as homeless.
The Centre was faced with a difficult decision but it was agreed that the best thing for the family was to issue them with a formal eviction. This meant they were now ‘homeless at home’, and qualified for temporary accommodation. However this wasn’t the end of the story. Mohammad recalls what happened next:
“Josef’s a very pleasant character. It’s difficult for him to say no, a very agreeable person. The only time I’ve seen him angry was when Housing Options offered him and his family a house in West Cliff-on-Sea [Southend]. The cost of commuting to his labouring job would have been near half of his £1000 monthly salary! But if he had refused the house they would have been listed as ‘intentionally homeless‘ and WHO would have no obligation to help the family.”
Refusing to take a house that would remove your ability to provide for your family seems instinctive, but it could make a desperate situation far worse. Our housing team were there to support Josef at every step of this process, so he didn’t make this mistake, but many don’t have someone knowledgeable to advise and advocate for them and can find they have nowhere left to turn. Everyday we help people who have fallen victim of rules they weren’t aware of.
Thanks to Mohammad and the Centre housing team, WHO accepted that the house offered was unsuitable for Josef’s family. Josef now lives in accommodation within London, much closer to his work, and looks forward to the day when his driver’s license is old enough for him to drive a black cab.
Had it not been for the Cardinal Hume Centre, a young couple and their baby could have ended up with no roof over their head. The Centre provides the patience, empathy and expert knowledge required to turn lives around.
A stock image has been used.