“I used to sleep in the train station”

Sheffield in the winter can be a cold and lonely place at the best of times. If you have no recourse to public funds, no entitlement to housing and benefits, and are seeking asylum in the city, life must feel pretty desperate.

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ASSIST is the the only charity in the city of Sheffield which focuses on destitute asylum seekers. SheffGives spoke to Lyndsey, Events and Community Officer at ASSIST, to find out more about the work that the charity does.

For those who have not heard of your organisation, what work does ASSIST do in the city?

ASSIST work with destitute asylum seekers in Sheffield. We provide accommodation, food and support for those in need. Alongside this we aim to educate the public and a number of voluntary and statutory organisations as to the plight of asylum seekers in our city.

Unfortunately, we cannot support everyone who needs help. We prioritise those who don’t have any other means of support from friends or family, those who do not have somewhere safe to sleep or regular access to food and those who are particularly vulnerable, for example because they are unwell, elderly or pregnant.

May we ask how you are funded?

We are completely reliant for our funding on grants and on donations from people like you.

How many people do you support in the city, and from whereabouts in the World? 

In 2017 we offered support to 247 asylum seekers, 131 received weekly cash payments. 49 regularly used the night shelter and 62 people were hosted by ASSIST volunteers or supported in shared housing.

 Our clients have travelled from over 20 countries including  Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Egypt, Congo, Sudan, Somalia, Palestine and many many more.

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How can SheffGives followers get involved and lend their support to your scheme?

Volunteers who would like to support asylum seekers face to face can get involved in many ways, by:

  • running the weekly drop in for asylum seekers
  • acting as advocates
  • sleeping at the night shelter
  • hosting an asylum seeker in your own home

Volunteers who would like to help out behind the scenes to support the work of ASSIST, in areas such as:

  • finance
  • administration
  • fundraising
  • publicity and raising public awareness
  • organising events

There are many different roles – more than we can list here. There is plenty to do!

Please email volunteering@assistsheffield.org.uk if you would like to know more about volunteering at ASSIST Sheffield.

If you can support us financially please get in contact with Lyndsey lyndsey.mclellan@assistsheffield.org.uk

ASSIST also run a bicycle donation scheme with COMAC. The project has helped many people, including asylum seekers and refugees, who have difficulties affording public transport. It is also a place where local people can bring their bike, and access tools and knowledge to help them maintain or repair it. For more information about this project, click here.

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Can you share an inspiring story with us?

Asefa’s story – ‘I came to Sheffield via Ethiopia, Sudan, Italy and France. My homelessness in France was particularly difficult. When I got to Sheffield, the Eritrean community told me of ASSIST and how the people might help improve my situation. There were also some Eritrean volunteers in ASSIST.

‘Before I found ASSIST, I had absolutely nothing. Things have changed now. Now my health problems are being sorted out and my legal situation is moving forward. This is basically because I can have somewhere to sleep and enough to eat – ASSIST give me food bank vouchers. If I go there just once I can eat for fifteen days.

‘It used to be the case that depression made me think too long about the problems in my life. The days are so long and difficult when you’re homeless and you can send yourself crazy with your worries. You get obsessed with whether or not you will eat tomorrow, or whether or not you will have somewhere to sleep tomorrow, so much so that you just have no space left in your head to think about anything else. I also have a son here. I want to improve the conditions of my life for his sake. I want to take him to places. ASSIST is helping me move my case forward so I’ll be able to make him proud of me. Already I have had contact with a solicitor.

‘Before ASSIST, people who knew I was homeless wouldn’t even say “hi” to me. Now I have a place to sleep. I can eat, cook my own food, wash myself, use the buses every day. I still have almost no money, but I have this support and a place to go every night. I used to sleep in the train station.’

Since this interview took place we are very pleased to add an update that Asefa has been recognised as entitled to humanitarian protection and granted leave to remain.

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And finally, what’s the best thing about working at ASSIST?

The people! We have over 300 volunteers from all walks of life. It’s great to get to know everyone. We are all working towards the same thing. Many volunteers have formed strong friendships and many welcome clients and ex-clients to social events. Sometimes it feels like a huge family!

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If you feel inspired to support the work of ASSIST in any way, please do contact them using the links above. Their work is so beneficial to so many people and the city as a whole.

I am hugely proud that Sheffield is my home city, and where my children will grow up. Our city was the UK’s first City of Sanctuary (awarded over 10 years ago!) – Sheffield truly is a welcoming place of refuge. Long may that continue ❤

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