Safety4Sisters Bulletin: Undocumented - Street Homelessness and Migrant Women

Undocumented - Street Homelessness and Migrant Women

Welcome to our first bulletin on the realities of migrant women with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) escaping domestic abuse. All the women we work with are subject to immigration control. This exacerbates the existing barriers that all women face, as well as the barriers specific and extraordinary to migrant women when considering their immigration status, such as NRPF.  Many of these experiences are documented by colleagues working in the field, including Platform for the International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM), Southall Black Sisters and the #StepUpMigrantWomen campaign. We start off our series by looking at women’s experiences of street homelessness. So often, migrant women are not identified as street homeless, or they are not counted in the data collected on visibly homeless people. Our experiences demonstrate that women do in fact end up in dangerous and fragile housing situations or have periods of time rough sleeping as a result of the barriers linked to insecure immigration status.

Street homelessness is a risk for migrant women leaving abuse as so often they are rendered destitute due to the NRPF condition. They are also at risk of falling foul of immigration rules as they may be breaching the conditions of their visa that may stipulate they remain in relationship with partners, not claim public funds and have enough money to support themselves. The migrant experience of homelessness is often left unrecorded in policy provision, in part because there are few agencies that provide appropriate support and as a result there is little documentation of their situations. When women tell us of their experiences, they reference how they must sleep in parks and stations, or how they are left to wander the streets or stay with friends, families and acquaintances who may be reluctant to host them (through poverty, fear of repercussion etc). Sometimes women tell us they have no choice but to stay with strangers.  This gap in safety and protection when leaving violence exacerbates women’s chances of being found by abusers and puts them in danger of further exploitation and violence. It is well known that when leaving abuse women risk facing repeat victimisation. Additionally, migrant women are exposed to the controlling arm of the state and to non-state discrimination, racism or of being reported to immigration authorities.

Mimi

Mimi left horrific abuse from her partner. She had experienced a miscarriage due to his violent attacks. Having fled the property they shared together, she phoned the police who took her to an overnight hostel. However, she could only stay one night because she was subject to the ‘no recourse to public funds’ condition and so could not claim housing benefit. The following morning, she was directed to go to the city’s housing and homelessness department where she was told they had no duty to her because she had “NRPF”.  Mimi was advised to wait for the Social Services to ring. She waited until 5pm and then had to leave because the homelessness department the building was closing, and all the office staff were leaving. She wandered around outside until 10pm where she found a police station. They took her back to the original overnight hostel, who directed her to the same homelessness department the next morning. That day she received the phone call she had been waiting for from Social Services. They advised her to make her way to their office some 3 miles away, but she had no money and the office was in the area from which she was fleeing. She had heard nothing from the police, and so did not know if her abuser was still in the area. Mimi walked the streets again, still bleeding heavily from her recent miscarriage, and crying. With no one to turn to, she met a man on the street who saw her distress and offered to help her. She told him her story and he found a female friend to put her up for a night. Both strangers were empathic and supportive – but this could so easily have not been the case. Two days later Mimi was given the Safety4Sisters number by another agency. We were able to immediately get her into safe emergency accommodation, ensure safeguarding and protection measures were in place, and offer her the emotional support over the following days that she needed. 

Yasmin

Yasmin is a recovering alcoholic on medication for liver problems. She had been sleeping rough in a park for two weeks having escaped brutal violence from her husband.  Immigration control had stripped her of the ability to claim housing or welfare support.  As a result, Yasmin had been refused an offer of accommodation or a safe hostel space by the homelessness department. Yasmin was left to sleep rough in the same town that her husband was living and potentially still looking for her. When we asked the the local domestic violence service why her care needs had not been considered by Social Services (as a route to identify her as an adult who could be eligible for accommodation under the Care Act 2014),  we were told by the social workers that because she was using the 24-hour McDonalds next to the park for toilet access (necessary because of the liver damage), Yasmin’s needs were deemed as “being met”.

Both these cases highlight how migrant women who are subject to NRPF do become street homeless, despite the fact they need immediate safety and protection from the gender-based violence they have experienced. Migrant women are still routinely refused life-saving support by services and professionals that prioritise their insecure immigration status and as such negate their status as victims of abuse. The services set up to provide safety to women experiencing violence in the UK are prepared to leave this group of women at risk of further violence, either on the streets or at the hands of their abuser. Women routinely tell us that they have no trust in the authorities and public duty safeguards, believing - with reason - that they may be sent back to violence.

If - like us - you believe that this is inhumane you can take the following action in your work.

1.       If you know of an undocumented woman who has experienced gender-based violence, make a referral to our Routes to Safety project. This project is delivered in conjunction with Southall Black Sisters and the Angelou Centre and provides support to undocumented women.

2.       Make a referral to the Southall Black Sisters NRPF fund when dealing with migrant women with irregular status to ensure that they have funds to remain safe. This fund can offer accommodation in hotel/B&B/refuge and subsistence costs.

3.       For women who are claiming asylum there are new practice guidelines from the Home Office which mean that they can pay support and housing costs for their stay within refuges and specialist domestic abuse accommodation. See more here.