It is well documented that lockdown saw a steep rise in domestic abuse cases. Sanctuary Hosting and Oxfordshire Domestic Abuse Service (ODAS) saw this reality first-hand through the experiences of several women in spring 2020.  Working together, these two organisations were continually astounded by the resilience and strength of the women who fled domestic violence during a global pandemic, a time when support from friends and family was largely closed off. The capacity of organisations to make a great change for the safety and wellbeing of women is remarkable and showcased in the story below.

One lady, we will call her Anna, was helped to escape her home after the police were called. Anna was placed in a hotel. The next day, Sanctuary Hosting received a call from ODAS to see if she could be found safe shelter with a volunteer host. A video call was set up with Anna the same day. Thanks to her resilience, and the hard work for her ODAS advocate, an interpreter and Sanctuary Hosting staff, Anna shared the details of her situation, a little about her past and her hopes for the future. With this information, Sanctuary Hosting set about finding her a host to stay with. Her caseworker at ODAS worked with her to make a safety plan to keep all involved safe and connected her to a solicitor.

The next day, Sanctuary Hosting arranged a taxi and Anna, just 24 hrs after she had fled her home, arrived at her hosts’ home. While initially nervous, as days passed Anna began to enjoy the garden and space, and tranquility of the rural home.

Thanks to legal aid, she was told she could apply for public funds, and then move to a refuge but this would take 2 weeks. After 10 days, the solicitor let her know she could now apply for public funds. Without delay, ODAS set about applying for a refuge space for her. One was rapidly found, and she prepared to move again.  Anna left the host’s house feeling cared for and supported.

Recognition of the fortitude and resilience of these women, and the agencies that are there to support, is something to celebrate today on International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, 25th November 2020.

Some 3 years ago a friend mentioned Sanctuary Hosting. My wife and I were ignorant of this charity. In a nutshell they link guests, (normally people with no housing as a consequence of immigration/refugee status) with hosts. Hosts with a spare room take in a guest, a refugee or migrant, who has no home. It sounds simple… mostly it is that simple. But Air BnB it ain’t!

Following our friends comment we contacted Sanctuary Hosting. After a helpful and reassuring visit from a caseworker we were very soon welcoming our first guest. There were of course briefings and support visits of course, both for us and our guest. We soon had a set of ground rules and to be honest I was surprised how smoothly it all went. It was fairly informal but thorough and included our daughter who was 16 at the time. She enjoyed having a guest in the house.

Who are the guests?

We have hosted two guests but confidentiality paramount. So I will only give a flavour, avoiding too much personal detail. Suffice to say our first guest had been trafficked, in his early teens across Europe, eventually arriving in the UK alone still under 18 having passed through the notorious Sangatte Jungle camp.

After his experiences he was still surprisingly cheerful and positive, but
somewhat naïve, which was surprising after all what he had been through. As our guest he had the physical support of a guaranteed roof, bed, laundry and access to the kitchen. A simple routine soon set in and we would on occasion share a meal cooked either by the host or guest. So in a practical sense it was easy. As for food he received Red Cross food parcels so he was self-sufficient.

On a emotional and personal level he did need some support. He spoke
reasonable English but his reading and literacy skills were limited. Though
Sanctuary Hosting did mange to get him support from our local FE college. His understanding of bureaucracy was also poor. On a number of occasions we had to help with e.g Home Office letters which were usually written in “legalese’ and often dashed his hopes of progress. I must add that the case worker did sterling work but when a “bad news” letter arrived our guest did value having at least a sympathetic face and guidance on the implications at hand as soon as he opened it. A letter mentioning a possible removal to an Immigration Detention Center is not comforting reading even if it is unlikely to actually happen. Being there when such a letter arrives is important but also ensuring the case worker is kept up to date to provide any suitable “official “support.

In a nutshell it is important to be able to provide some comfort, but providing legal, financial support or advice etc. is absolutely not a host’s role. (No matter how tempting to join in!)

I can’t say much more without briefing confidentiality. He has moved on from us but does keep in touch on social media. The good news is that there some limited confidence he will establish a right to remain.

Again I cannot give too many details of our second guest.

This was a man who had been in the UK for some time and had a UK daughter though he and his wife were separated. There was a question over the status of his visa which meant he could no longer legally work or have any recourse to public funds. Essentially he went overnight from professional paid employment to being virtually destitute and likely to become homeless. After nine months and seemingly endless Home Office delays, “lost and mislaid” documents, he did receive his right to remain. In practical terms he was able to fight his corner against the home office. But emotionally the strain of trying to maintain regular contact sessions with his daughter and the necessary travel arrangements did tell on him. He was never a burden, (he was a good cook) and would sometimes share a meal with us, and take opportunity to just talk about what was happening.

Will we be hosts again?

Absolutely yes, though may have a pause.

Was it hard work?

Not really it was mostly straightforward with a few ups and downs.

What did we as hosts get out of it?

An education in parts of our society that are not visible if you have no involvement. There is also a certain satisfaction in doing something, which while not onerous to us, really did help someone in need.”

– Sanctuary Hosting, Volunteer Host, Milton Keynes