Dear Home Visitors,

I know it’s rather late to wish you all a Happy New Year but life at R@H Towers has been a tad busy – which is why this newsletter is a little later than planned.

Starting with A Good Read, this article by one of our hosts – indeed by one who said she was only prepared to host women – appeared in The Times this weekend.  We were poised for a flurry of host applications, and hoped that at least some Times readers live in London, Bristol, Brighton or Cardiff where we could really do with some more hosts. It turns out that some live in London or Brighton but they are a rather rural bunch. Pity!

And I got up far too early last Sunday to do this interview for BBC Radio London.

We heard in January that we got through to the last round of the Aviva competition; although we did not win, the Aviva judges decided to award us £250 after all our votes and hard work.

While that is not enough to allow us to roll out our travel card scheme, if you need help with providing travel cards for your guest, do please get in touch or tell your Home Visitor as we do have some funds and use them mainly for guests’ travel costs.

Charitable status is nearly there and when we do get it we can apply for other grants and make good use of any donations. We can already get Gift Aid as another charity will take in donations on our behalf and pass on the Gift Aid. But we are not fund-raising to replace the Aviva grant until our own charitable status is sorted.

How can we better find the right hosts for our guests?  We need your ideas.

One of the key aims of Refugees At Home is to offer refugees some stability- a breathing space- to allow our guests to move on to the next stage of their lives.

Sometimes guests need to sort out asylum claims:  or finish the endless bureaucratic paperwork that comes with life in the UK:  some need to sort out health problems before they can move on.  Sometimes they don’t even know, they just need the chance to stop and take a breath and figure out what the next step is.

We have been hugely successful so far, with 14,500 hosted nights, over 400 assessed hosts (270 in London and the Home Counties) and with just over 250 unassessed.  Almost all of the latter have visitors assigned unless they live in remote areas, have said they are not ready or we have no Home Visitor nearby.

And we are up to 360 Home Visitors who are highly interested in helping – that’s you guys  – and make sure that our hosts are both suitable and prepared to host.  You are often our first non-virtual interaction with hosts, and you know our hosts in a way that we, as an admin team, simply can’t.

As we look at how we move forward, there is something that is starting to worry us; the number of hosts who offer very conditional hosting.

Sometimes this is emergency or very short term placements only, or only people who meet certain criteria (gender, education level, nationality, immigration status etc).  Someone recently volunteered to host only a Christian/Yazidi, another only a woman and only during the week, or one at the weekend specifying a middle-aged woman. (I think she may have thought we were a source of cheap child-care – one for the HV to sort out!)

This makes it very difficult to help certain refugees- a university educated, English-speaking Syrian woman is incredibly easy to host, even in London, a man from a less publicised conflict, with limited English, who needs to be near a particular place to access support, can be nearly impossible.

That has meant we have failed some refugees- there is at least one still sleeping on the steps of a mosque because he comes from a conflict zone few people have heard of. Others we have managed to host, but it has been hugely disruptive for the guest.  One man had four hosts in a three-week period as all would take him for a few days only.  It’s better than sleeping rough but must be a very unsettling experience.  And, while some hosts do relax stringent conditions when they find we can’t place anyone with them, or if they have hosted once, not enough hosts with very strict conditions become more flexible over time.

Our principle has always been that without the hosts we don’t exist:  and that someone has absolute and final say on who stays in their house.  We need to maintain that, of course: we don’t want anyone to feel bullied or pressurised into doing something with which they are uncomfortable.  But for the sake of the people we are here to help, we need more hosts willing to be flexible about who, when and how long they host.

Our perfect host will take a man, in London or one of the other cities, for upwards of six weeks. A break point to assess if it’s going OK – especially for new hosts – is fine. But that’s the gold standard

Length of placement

 One other plea – we do understand why some hosts want to put their toes in the water with very short placements, and we will respect that, but it is, of course, much more work for us, and if you could possibly talk to new hosts about offering say, a month (on the understanding that we will always move someone if things are not working out) it would make our lives much easier. It would also be far better for the majority of our guests who are quite stressed about the amount of moving they have done and would love to be able to draw breath for a decent length of time.

So, we need your help.  What do you suggest?  Is it more information from us to overcome fear and caution?  Testimonies from people who have hosted (which do exist on our website)?  Can you offer different guidance and support when hosts are first visited?  Can we have a proactive approach to ‘convert’ existing hosts?

Please email ideas, thoughts, and reactions to info@refugeesathome.org with the subject title ‘host engagement’.  We’ll gather them all together and then set up a live chat so we can work together to come up with a plan.

I hope in the next newsletter to bring you our updated resource website – we have two or three volunteers working quite hard on it.

In the meantime, all the best and happy visiting.

Sara, and the core admin team

Refugees At Home

www.refugeesathome.org

facebook.com/refugeesathome

twitter.com/refugeesathome