Vulnerable members of the Windrush generation are still living in destitution on the streets, despite government promises to sort out the crisis that led to thousands of people being wrongly targeted by a government crackdown on illegal immigrants.
The Guardian has heard of at least a dozen Windrush citizens who have been sleeping rough or staying in temporary accommodation while they wait for a decision on their legal right to remain in the UK.
One man said he was living hand-to-mouth, relying on his brother’s support and sleeping on sofas. Another man said he was homeless and had been sleeping in a warehouse.
Their situation has not improved despite it being nearly a month since the minister for children, Nadhim Zahawi, pledged that “in two weeks we’ll have dealt with all the Windrush cases, including compensation.”
Charities say it is impossible to quantify the number of people made homeless by Home Office immigration decisions. Many of the Windrush generation were told they could not work in Britain, were stripped of benefits and denied access to medical care as a result of a government crackdown on illegal immigration.
Of those attending the Home Office visas and immigration headquarters at Lunar House to resolve their status, a number could not afford travel fees. Many have been supported by family members; others have survived through the help of charities.
Among those who are struggling is Balvin Marshall, 64, who came to the UK in 1972. After years of working and paying taxes, he was told he could not work as he was in the country illegally. He had to leave his job as a council road sweeper and eventually lost his home.
Marshall told the Guardian he was homeless and had slept on park benches while waiting for a Home Office appointment. “At this moment I have no address. Where I sleep tonight, I am yet to work out,” he said.
Marshall said he had recently begun sleeping in a warehouse that he was helping to repair. “The owner lets me stay occasionally,” he said.
How the Guardian broke the story
In November last year, Paulette Wilson (left), who has lived in the UK for more than half a century, spoke to the Guardian’s Amelia Gentleman about her treatment at the hands of the Home Office – and revealed that she had been held at Yarl’s Wood detention centre and threatened with deportation. It was the first of a series of stories that developed a picture of how many members of the Windrush generation were being mistreated by the government under the so-called ‘hostile environment’ policy. By February, with other examples mounting, the government had relented in Wilson’s case, but faced acute criticism from Caribbean diplomats who urged the Home Office to adopt a “more compassionate” approach.
In March the story of Albert Thompson – who had lived in Britain for 44 years but was told to produce a passport or face a bill of £54,000 for cancer treatment – forced attention back to the growing crisis. After the Guardian reported a string of additional cases matters came to a head when Theresa May refused to meet with Caribbean diplomats to discuss the issue, prompted fury among opposition MPs and a wider media backlash. After days of negative publicity Rudd and May were forced to change tack and issued apologies, promised reforms – and eventually gave the Windrush generation a fast-track to citizenship.
Lloyd Grant, 59, is in a similar position. Kate Osamor, the Labour MP for his Edmonton constituency in north-east London, contacted the Home Office about his case last month but he is still sleeping on sofas and has no money. “I am homeless, there should be more support,” he said. “I want somewhere to stay. At the moment I don’t have my life back. Being able to sign on and open a bank account, these are all things I cannot do. I still have to ask for money from my siblings. That is hard for anyone,” he said.
MPs are now calling for a hardship fund to be set up to support members of the Windrush generation who have been left destitute despite being told they can now work in the UK.
David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, said: “It is yet another failure in a litany of abject failures that Windrush citizens are being left homeless and hungry on the streets.
“I fought back tears for most of my constituency surgery last Friday hearing so many stories of depression, suicidal thoughts and exploitation because so many people have been driven into an underground economy.”
The shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, called for the government to immediately put in place a system of emergency payments.
Charities fear there may be many more Windrush citizens living on the streets who have not yet come forward.
Sally Daghlian, chief executive of the immigration charity Praxis, said: “It is not possible to quantify the number of people who have been made homeless. Many may have simply become part of the long-term homeless population, struggling to survive day to day.”
She said a snapshot of her charity’s casework revealed one person who had been given temporary accommodation by a local authority pending resolution of his case, one who had been given Home Office papers and temporary accommodation, and two more people who were sleeping on sofas while they waited for Home Office interviews.
“There is an urgent need for an outreach programme to find people who may be homeless or being supported by others as a result of Windrush,” she said. “People then require specialist advocacy and support to put their lives back together. Being homeless for a long time has very negative effects on individuals, impacting on their mental, emotional and physical health.”
Daghlian said the government should work with local authorities to provide acceptable alternative accommodation if people fell outside of the usual priority need criteria.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are determined to make sure our compensation scheme effectively addresses the issues the people of the Windrush generation have faced. Those affected have the opportunity to share their stories as part of our call for evidence, which will be the basis for a bespoke compensation scheme. We will listen and then put in place a scheme which meets their needs.”