Christians want to find rooms – and fill them – for asylum seekers

NEWS | Kaley Payne

Thursday 20 August 2015

Sam Terry is moving his wife and their one and three-year-old toddlers into one room in their two-bedroom apartment in Marrickville, in Sydney’s inner west. It’s not because he particularly likes close quarters. It’s because his family is going to be the first to try out a new programme called Enough Room that Sam has spearheaded. And to do it, they’ll need to free up a bedroom.

Sam describes Enough Room as “kind of like AirBNB for asylum seekers.”

“The idea is that people can offer up a spare bedroom, or their whole house, to our website which will then be put into a database that an asylum seeker service agency can access. They’ll match that space up with an asylum seeker who needs accommodation,” says Sam.

Sam is a second year student at Sydney’s Moore College. He says he’s always felt powerless to help when it comes to asylum seekers.

“Being a Christian, I knew I wanted to help people who were sidelined by society, who don’t have much power or much of a voice. But it’s always hard to know where to start.”

He gathered a team of friends who were also interested in how they could help. As they tossed around ideas, it seemed clear that accommodation for asylum seekers was a real problem. Asylum seekers typically have little income and uncertain residential status. Compounded by a lack of funding for agency services for asylum seekers, it is a real challenge for them to find appropriate housing – either short term or mid term.

“There are at least 7 million spare bedrooms across Australia,” estimates Sam. “That’s a lot of spare space!”

Sam and his team are working with House of Welcome, an agency seeking to provide holistic support to asylum seekers in Australia.

Enough Room’s database of available spare rooms won’t be accessible to asylum seekers but rather to the agency looking after them.

“That’s to protect the asylum seeker guest – so they have an agency watching out for them and looking after them – but also to help the host for support for any issues that might arise,” said Sam.

Opening up your home to a stranger could be quite confronting and Sam is aware that there will be questions about security and safety, both for the asylum seeker and the host.

“A host can specify what type of asylum seeker they have space for: a single person, a couple, a family. Perhaps it might be best for you in your situation to host a single female, rather than a single male. The agency can take those preferences into consideration,” he said.

The host can also decide for how long they can accommodate an asylum seeker. The minimum time is four weeks, to give the asylum seeker time to continue to look for other accommodation.

“I think it is pretty scary, sure, to put yourself up for this. You want to help someone, but what if the person can’t speak English very well? Won’t that be awkward? Or what if the person is coming from a war zone? That could be difficult to deal with.

“There’s always an element of risk when it comes to loving someone else. There is a cost to love. You put things on the line to do that. We want to train people to see that this is a good thing, and to help them manage those risks, too.”

Sam and the Enough Room team aren’t the only ones who have identified a problem faced by asylum seekers and refugees that they think they can solve.

David Baker, 23, thinks transport is also a big problem, particularly delivering second-hand goods and furniture to asylum seekers and refugees who have found somewhere to live.

“In my church at Auburn (in Sydney’s west), there are always people offering second-hand items for asylum seekers: fridges, couches, furniture of all kinds. But we had no way to transport it,” David told Eternity. 

David and his friend Amelia were connected with a number of churches in the area, all interested in assisting asylum seekers and refugees. For example, St James Anglican Church in Berala, also in Sydney’s west, has seen many refugees move into their area. They’ve set up ESL classes and are often involved in helping refugees move.

“People offer things and we just can’t take them. We can’t transport them and it’s hard to store large items while we wait to borrow or hire a car to do so,” says David.

The solution? The Refugee Ute Project. David is part of a team crowdfunding for a ute that churches in western Sydney can share so they can connect unwanted second-hand furniture with the refugees who really need it.

“People want to get rid of their stuff, and it’s a chore for them to get rid of it. We can make it easier, while helping out the refugees who really need some of this stuff.”

The Project has raised over $13,000 so far, and they’ve costed out that they’ll need $18,500 to buy a second-hand double cab ute. They’re offering perks for donations, including cooking lessons with some of their local Persian refugee friends, home cooked meals, refugee speaking engagements and other resources. Donations close this week, so get in fast if you want to help.

“We know that there are a lot of people passionate about this issue who don’t know how to help. This is a really practical way.”

Accommodation for asylum seekers, and a ute to help deliver get the goods and furniture they need. Two projects of practical Christianity, that’s for sure.

Click here for more on Enough Room.

Click here for more on the Refugee Ute Project.

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