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Homelessness awareness week - Bethany House

Homelessness awareness week - Bethany House

Exeter and Teignbridge councils are stepping up their homelessness support with a new campaign aimed at highlighting all the good work that goes on in the area and raising awareness of the issue.

The two councils have teamed up to launch Homelessness Awareness Week which runs from 9 to 13 October and Westward is among those supporting the initiative as we run a number of support projects in Exeter and the surrounding area.

Here is one of our case studies from our supported project Bethany House, based in Exeter.

Moving to a new city can be daunting for anyone but especially for someone who has been trafficked from a foreign country. That was the fate that had befallen 18 year-old Ai (not her real name) from Vietnam when she was placed by the Homeless Prevention team at Young Devon at Westward’s Bethany House in Exeter while awaiting a court decision on her long term residency.

Bethany is Westward’s supported accommodation for single homeless women aged 16-17 or 18-21, if a care leaver. It has 10 fully furnished en-suite rooms and 3 self-contained flat lets.

Initially Ai was helped with applying for housing benefit. Although she could speak English her comprehension could be difficult, therefore care workers made sure they framed anything in a way she could understand and helped attend any important appointments with her.

Although Ai did not have leave to stay in Britain, the Home Office had provided her with a letter stating that while the case was pending, she was to be treated as a British Citizen. This made it possible for her to receive Housing Benefit and register with a GP. 

Bethany House She managed to find work with a Vietnamese employer in Exeter where she worked all week, most of which was regarded as training but including some paid hours. The employer was helpful in helping her to send money home.

Westward’s work centred on helping her save money so that if she was granted leave to stay in Britain and obtain a photo ID, she would be able to apply for a new job.  Support sessions often centred on the topic of a different job and investigating places where she may want to work.

Ai struggled to complete an English course at college and it was realised that she probably had a mild learning difficulty which was also hampering her employment opportunities.

Westward’s support staff helped her in liaising with her solicitor in Bristol regarding the appeal to stay in the country and accompanied her to visit her lawyer in Bristol and eventually to the court case in Newport. 

She was scared for her safety in Britain, being constantly worried that the authorities were going to come and take her away to fly her back to Vietnam where, because of the traffickers, she believed that she would be killed. Ai also worried about her family in Vietnam, however was able to contact them via the internet. 

There was no suitable Vietnamese community in Exeter and Ai was scared to make English friends. There were many support sessions on these topics and we eventually visited a very helpful and supportive local GP so that she could be linked in with a specialised therapist.  

Ai was eventually granted leave to reside in Britain for a set period of years. She would have to reapply at the end of this time and in the meantime would be given status and permitted biometric photo ID which staff helped her to obtain.  

A Vietnamese friend in London phoned her with the offer of shared accommodation and a job and she eventually decided to take up this offer. The job was one she felt confident in and we also felt she would feel less lonely and safer being able to live in a Vietnamese community.

Esme Searle, Westward’s Business & Service Development Officer (Support Services) and former project lead at Bethany House, said Ai was able to trust staff enough to be able to talk to us about her situation in this country.

“For her Bethany House became a safe place in an unsafe world.  We were able to give her the time and help that she needed to be able to express her thoughts, hopes and fears.  From this foundation, we were able to present her with opportunities, options and life choices and to talk these through with her in a way which she could understand.”

“We were able to be alongside her in her dealings with other agencies so that her needs were made clear.  We were able to talk with her around her various move-on options both inside and outside Exeter and to help her to plan her move to London.”