Glasgow Night Shelter: A Place of Sanctuary
Every night many homeless men from around the world stay at Glasgow Night Shelter, located inside Anderston Church in the city’s West End.
A report showed that there was a 29% drop in homelessness applications in Glasgow in the period of 2015/2016, but these forgotten people are not included in the statistics.
People who are classified as homeless, do not have a permanent address, however they have access to government housing services. The men who stay in Glasgow Night Shelter are not eligible for the council housing services because of their illegal immigration status and the majority of them are asylum seekers who do not have the right to work.
At 8pm, volunteers at the shelter start to welcome these men, offering them a hot dinner inside a very rough, old dining room. Then they walk to their refuge, a spacious hall with wooden flooring and begin the ritual of laying down blue mattresses in preparation for sleep, after having spent a long, arduous day on the streets.
Phil Jones, Coordinator of Glasgow Night Shelter, said: “We try to create a warm and welcome space according to our potential and find safe space for these vulnerable people to not be attacked.
“It is not really a life, we help the men to survive but having a life is beyond that,” Jones added.
Glasgow Night Shelter was launched in December 2011 and was intended to be a temporary project, but as a result of a widespread homelessness crisis, it became permanent. It provides a place for people to stay who cannot access homeless services.
“It’s running every night, providing emergency help for desperate people because of their immigration status, which doesn’t allow them to get housing benefit or even to work,” Jones said.
So far, the shelter only provides a hot meal and a bed for up to 15 men a night: “Sometimes we allow 34 desperate persons to stay here, we worked really hard to not turn any person away,” Jones said. He is hoping to change this and expand capabilities to include places for women.
“We are currently looking for avenue for women asylum seekers and we plan to run a large unisex shelter to offer better facilities and showers, which we don’t have here in the church, but that is depending on the donations” he added.
Glasgow Night Shelter, is a non-governmental organisation, therefore the sources of funding are severely limited, having to rely on its status as a charity for external funding.
Jones said “Whisky and sweets are the main funding resource for our charity from some donors like Rowntrees and Grant’s Whisky.”
“The church has provided us with the hall free and we pay the utility bills.” he added.
Asylum seekers and immigrants are only permitted to stay in the shelter from 8pm until 8am, sometimes getting breakfast and lunch, and sometimes not.
Clive Mackenzie, a 33-year-old man from Zimbabwe, who has stayed in the shelter since May 2016, said “Every day I wake up at 7:50 am to face another day of misery, trying to survive in the street.
“I spend my day walking around and waiting in queues to get some food or clothes from other charities” Mackenzie added.
Around 67% of asylum applications were refused in the first 9 months in 2016, a report said. Every asylum seeker goes through a complicated and long process which varies from case to case. Some cases last for years depending on the outcome decision. During the waiting time asylum seekers are not permitted to work but they get shared accommodation and subsidy from The Home Office.
If an asylum seeker is refused, they will have the right to appeal twice in the courts against the Home Office’s decision, if the appeals are rejected, the asylum seeker will be stripped of support and kicked out of accommodation with no right to work.
Mackenzie, said “It’s 10 months now since I have been removed from the Home Office accommodation after my appeal was rejected.”
“The Home Office tried to deport me but even the government in Zimbabwe didn’t accept me. I am stranded in the middle”.
“Sometimes I meet a person who wants to be in a relationship with me but when she asked to visit me, I felt embarrassment and I put my hands in my pockets pretending that I am searching for my keys, then I said to her ‘oh, I lost my keys’” he said.
Jones, said “We receive people from Africa, Asia, Brazil and third of people who stay here are from the EU. Some people are not well; they are a bit lost and depressed, so it’s difficult for them to access benefits”.
Nicusor Gavrilescu, a 26-year-old man from Romania, said “It’s my first night in the church, I stayed for a week in the winter night shelter for rough sleepers but I didn’t feel safe”
“I worked in many temporarily jobs in England since 2015 but the rent was so expensive so I decided to move to Glasgow” he added.
EU citizens need to stay for a minimum 3 months to apply for accommodation with the local council, unless they are working during that period, they cannot get help with emergency housing or claim benefits: “I want to find a job so I can rent my own room. I have never been in this situation before” Gavrilescu added.
Featured Image: Mohammed Hussein