Sheffield hit by homelessness crisis as a “perfect storm” leaves people on streets

The leader of a Sheffield homelessness organisation told a crisis summit that they have run out of places to rehouse people because of a huge increase in demand since January.
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Karen Awdhali, head of services at Nomad Opening Doors, which helps people to transition out of homelessness, said that it has had so many referrals since January that it has stopped doing assessments as it has nowhere left to place people. She said that the problem, caused by a change in government policy on asylum seekers, is leaving people homeless on the streets.

Once someone is given a positive decision on their asylum claim, they now have only seven days to leave their Home Office-provided accommodation.

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The summit at Sheffield Town Hall heard from asylum seekers and groups that support them as well as members of Sheffield City Council. Nomad organised the event in collaboration with South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG).

Karen Awdhali of Nomad Open Doors said that a housing crisis in Sheffield is so acute that her organisation has completely run out of places to house people. Picture: Julia Armstrong, LDRSKaren Awdhali of Nomad Open Doors said that a housing crisis in Sheffield is so acute that her organisation has completely run out of places to house people. Picture: Julia Armstrong, LDRS
Karen Awdhali of Nomad Open Doors said that a housing crisis in Sheffield is so acute that her organisation has completely run out of places to house people. Picture: Julia Armstrong, LDRS

The aim was to discuss the problems and bring people together to search for solutions.

Karen told the meeting: “This is the highest number of referrals we have ever received.

Waiting

“We normally average around 20 to 30 referrals a month. In November and December, we received 139 and a staggering 142 referrals in January. We filled our last room in January.

Aso Mohammadi spoke at a Sheffield housing crisis summit about his experience of homelessness as an asylum seeker. Picture: Julia Armstrong, LDRSAso Mohammadi spoke at a Sheffield housing crisis summit about his experience of homelessness as an asylum seeker. Picture: Julia Armstrong, LDRS
Aso Mohammadi spoke at a Sheffield housing crisis summit about his experience of homelessness as an asylum seeker. Picture: Julia Armstrong, LDRS
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“We stopped carrying out assessments in January due to the lack of properties. We therefore had no choice but to put a hold on assessments and create a waiting list. We now have around 200 people waiting for our support.

“We closed our list completely on March 21.

“Most of the men and women on our waiting list are street homeless.”

She added: “I have just received another call, asking for emergency help fora 19-year-old who will be on the street tonight. As the mother of a 19-year-old, I know that they are little more than children and are simply not equipped to deal with rough sleeping.”

Sheffield Green Party councillor Alexi Dimond spoke about a "perfect storm" of issues at a Sheffield summit on the city's housing crisis. Picture: Skywall PhotographySheffield Green Party councillor Alexi Dimond spoke about a "perfect storm" of issues at a Sheffield summit on the city's housing crisis. Picture: Skywall Photography
Sheffield Green Party councillor Alexi Dimond spoke about a "perfect storm" of issues at a Sheffield summit on the city's housing crisis. Picture: Skywall Photography

Blessan Babu of City of Sanctuary, which supports asylum seekers and refugees in Sheffield, said that people are continuing to leave countries because of unexpected situations they are facing. He said they have a variety of skills and, rather than seeing them as a pressure, Sheffield should view this as an opportunity to do things together.

Lifeline

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He said that finding a housing solution would be good news for everyone in the city, not just those seeking sanctuary.

Refugees at Home, a project which is run by volunteers, identifies people with spare rooms they are willing to open up, either for free or in return for payment. Blessan said the team do all checks and put everything in place.

He said that placements can be very short-term: “Two to three weeks is a lifeline for sanctuary seekers.”

Journalist, migration researcher and member of City of Sanctuary Aso Mohammadi, who came to Sheffield from Iran, spoke about his experience of homelessness and how it left him feeling always insecure.

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He said: “Homelessness is directly related to the issue of security.

“Fleeing a dictatorship to find safety but still no safety here. All these are the results of creating a hostile environment with deliberate choices and anti-immigration policies.”

Vulnerable

He added: “So much has been lost; you have lost all the possibilities of life including language, job, home, credit, communication, family, friends, etc, this makes you a vulnerable person even though you are a powerful and important person.”

Aso explained: “Constantly thinking about getting kicked out and where you’re going to live next makes you not think about anything else.*

He said that his housing situation and a lack of legal rights made him feel he had no control over his life, impacting on his mental health.

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Oliver Robinson, business manager at SDP Student Homes, said he was “a bit sceptical” when they were approached by Nomad in 2021 to house homeless people. “We were amazed at how well the tenants looked after our properties,” he said.

The firm started off offering 13 bed spaces, followed by a further 18 last year and another 23 will be introduced from July 2024.

Nomad tenant Jamie spoke about how staff kept in touch with him to offer support and help meet his needs. “Thank you to all of them, it’s been an amazing experience,” he said.

Pressures

Sheffield City Council member and City of Sanctuary worker Alexi Dimond spoke about a “perfect storm in terms of homelessness and pressures the council is under. There has been a sustained increase in homeless presentation since the end of lockdown.

“Since March there are 2,850 open cases in the city.”

Alexi said the top three reasons for homelessness are people whose families can no longer accommodate them, victims of domestic abuse and the end of a private tenancy.

He said there has been a dramatic increase among people given a positive decision by the Home Office.

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In total, 693 households are in temporary accommodation in Sheffield, including 350 families. This has increased from 345 in 2023.

Alexi said: “The council loses lots and lots of money because housing benefit doesn’t cover the full cost of putting people in temporary accommodation. In 2022-23 the council had pressure of £5.9 million on temporary accommodation.

Chilling

“In 2023-24 it is projected to be £8.4m and projected to rise to £15m by 2028.”

He said there are currently 24,000 people on the housing register in Sheffield, with around 6,000 people chasing just 40 properties that go on the housing register weekly.

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The council needs more temporary accommodation but it is competing with Nomad and with Mears, who provide Home Office accommodation and are moving asylum seekers out of hotels, which is in turn pushing up prices in the private rented sector.

“The council realises this really chilling situation,” he said, adding that the authority is looking at putting together a new housing advice team, who would do more homelessness preventative work.

The idea had even been floated of the council buying a hotel to provide more temporary accommodation, he said.

Alexi said the council needs to build more social housing but the right for tenants to buy their homes after 15 years causes a huge problem for local authorities.

He also explained that many people who present as homeless can no longer be rehoused and families and people with serious mental health issues have to be prioritised.

“We need to come together as a community and reach out to all organisations to try and alleviate the housing crisis generally and for people seeking sanctuary,” Alexi said.