I’ve lived in the UK for 25 years, worked hard, and even bought my own home. But earlier this year, I was forced to sleep on the streets. Now new immigration rules that came into force on the 1st December 2020 mean that people like me who have slept rough but are not UK nationals could be deported. I need your help to call on the UK Government to stop this from happening.
My name is Owen. I am 60, born in Jamaica and have lived in the UK for many years. Until February 2020, I was working as a cleaner and paying my rent out of my earnings. Unfortunately, my job ended, and I could no longer afford my rent, so I became homeless. It is horrible that from the 1st December 2020, people sleeping rough will be punished for being homeless and face deportation.
I have worked in the UK for many years and even saved enough money for my own home. But under these new immigration rules, that won’t matter.
I originally wanted to come to the UK so I could be closer to my mum. I started by working two jobs, as a mechanic in the daytime and in a double glazing factory at night. I wanted to get a certificate in mechanics but had never learned to read or write because I had been taken out of school to work in Jamaica from a young age. I was told I was dyslexic which made it even more difficult for me. With the money I saved I still managed to move to London and buy a house with a mortgage. I rented a garage and started running my own mechanic’s business.
However, lots of administrative things were impossible because I couldn’t read or write. I didn’t know I should have changed my mortgage after my deal ran out so kept paying a high rate. I didn’t manage to sort my tax returns out. I always have piles of letters that I have not opened because I cannot read them.
I ended up losing my business and my home.
Because I’m not a UK-national, I couldn’t apply for benefits – this is known as no recourse to public funds, which meant I had no option but to end up on the streets. I slept rough for about a month, in the park and anywhere I could find until we went into lockdown and I was picked up by an outreach worker. These new rules will make the work of outreach teams trying to support people sleeping rough much harder. People will be afraid to engage with services because it could lead to arrest, detention and even deportation. Some people will have no choice but to end up in exploitative or dangerous work just to avoid this.
It would be nice if there was more support for older people like me with dyslexia. Accessing everyday services like shopping and banking can be quite difficult and there is no help available for this. It makes life generally a lot harder to navigate. Everything is a challenge.
But instead of helping people when they need it most, these new rules will only punish people.
Crisis have helped me into a better place and to share my story. Now I want to make sure that others like me are able to access the support needed to move out of homelessness. We have a moral responsibility to end rough sleeping – but these new rules will be unfair and counterproductive.
Since launching the campaign, Crisis member Owen has secured indefinite leave to remain in the UK, which means that he can now access benefits and is no longer at risk of deportation under the new rules. But thousands of others remain at risk. Owen continues to campaign alongside Crisis UK to ensure that no-one is punished for being homeless.