None of our clients, or as we prefer to call them “guests”, has any money so the charity are responsible for paying all the bills and outgoings on each house. This includes council tax which is a significant outgoing for us. We receive no Government or local authority funding.
We work closely with ASSIST, a local Sheffield charity. Generally when we have a vacancy in one of our houses we approach ASSIST and they will refer one of their clients to us, who has been homeless for some time. On occasions we have direct referrals from our own contacts.
An interview then takes place with two members of the Open Hands Project. Normally this will include the house manager of the house where there is a vacancy.
Each house has a volunteer house manager who will visit the house each week and ensure that everything is in order. He also has a pastoral responsibility for the guests who often have difficulties, other than being destitute. Depression is a common problem. Referrals can sometimes take place to other agencies such as a G.P. or legal advice concerning a fresh claim for asylum.
If the new guest has been referred to us by ASSIST, and is supported by them, then Assist will pay a weekly contribution towards that person’s share of the household bills. This is a very welcome help.
Generally we offer accommodation for a maximum of 12 months. This might seem harsh but the demand for places is great and sadly at the present time our help cannot be open ended. The guests are expected during that 12 months to use the time to seek legal advice to make fresh claims for asylum. Other options are also available for example to make an application for what is known as section 4 support that is available to some failed asylum seekers in limited circumstances. One or two of our guests have been successful in obtaining this particular benefit. Others might even consider returning home, if this were possible.
What we try to offer is reasonable accommodation giving an opportunity to reflect on the next steps. During the 12 months the house manager will remind the guest of the need to pursue these avenues.
The guests are expected to play their part in keeping the house clean and tidy. They are allowed to have friends around but no overnight guests. If they are away for more than two nights they are expected to let the house manager know.
During the interview process they are reminded that they are not allowed to work. In addition we seek to ensure that they are able to get on with people from different cultural and religious backgrounds. There is no requirement that someone has any particular religious faith, simply a willingness to get on with others.
We have to be extremely careful about accommodating those with significant alcohol or drug addictions .Similarly those with severe mental health issues. The houses are visited on a limited number of occasions by the house manager. We have no paid staff- simply volunteers- and we have a duty of care to the other guests in the house.
The only incomes generally received by guests are small weekly amounts from ASSIST. Not all our guests receive this. It is normally in the region of £10 -15 per week. Some also get a bus pass – which is a real lifeline. Our finances are generally such that we can only help occasionally when guests are receiving nothing from ASSIST.A classic way of doing this is with a £10 Tesco gift card.
We also try to help with toiletries and house cleaning products. A local school, Bethany, has at their harvest thanksgiving, sometimes given us a supply of toiletries that will see our guests through a good part of the year.