Vasile arrived in the UK from Romania in 2014. His hope was to work and send money back to Romania to help his family. Initially Vasile was in London. He worked various cash in hand jobs – at car washes, on building sites, cleaning – but he was often ripped off. As he didn’t sign contracts he was often paid too little or repeatedly told he would be paid next week. Vasile never had anywhere to live and was sleeping rough.
After a couple of years Vasile left London for Bristol because he had heard that people there were more helpful. But after he arrived in Bristol he continued to live on the streets. Bristol City Council knew about Vasile and his situation as they delivered food to him twice a day: but still he was homeless. After a year or two, Vasile’s wife also came to join him in the UK. He and his wife slept rough together on the streets and in the parks of Bristol.
It wasn’t until the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 that Vasile was finally housed. He was put up in a hotel in Bristol as part of the ‘Everyone In’ scheme, which aimed to house all homeless people in response to the public health emergency. This was because while living on the streets it is impossible for people to self-isolate to protect themselves or others from the virus. Stable accommodation made a huge difference for Vasile. He was able to wash himself and his clothes regularly, and he had facilities to make himself small meals.
However, this was also a difficult time. Vasile’s wife had fallen ill with lung cancer and was receiving treatment in hospital. Her prognosis was not good and towards the end of 2020 their GP was able to help them access some funds so she could return to Romania to continue her treatment and see family, including their nine children. In early 2021, Vasile’s wife passed away in Romania. This was an extremely difficult time for Vasile, and his mental health suffered. But he felt lucky to have friends in Bristol who supported him, as well as access to his GP for medical help.
As lockdown was eased again in the UK, the national government ended funding for the ‘Everyone In’ programme on May 17th 2021, saying that the public health emergency had passed. For Vasile this meant he was homeless yet again – sleeping rough in an underpass with another friend. Being back on the streets only compounded his mental health struggles. Some of Vasile’s other friends had managed to access support through the help of Bristol City Council and St Mungos while they were staying in hotels. They were now receiving benefits and in, or waiting for, housing allocations.
Vasile had also been supported to make an application to the European Union Settlement Scheme (EUSS). Having been in the UK for more than 5 years, he should have been eligible for settled status, which would allow him access to benefits and housing support. But Vasile had very little documentary evidence of his time in the UK. Despite multiple applications he had never received a National Insurance number, there were no records of the exploitative work he had undertaken, and as a rough sleeper he had no records of housing – it was going to be difficult to prove his entitlements.
At the time of meeting Caroline, Bristol Refugee Rights’ Member Participation Organiser, in May 2021, Vasile was still waiting to hear from the Home Office about his EUSS application. It is anticipated that he will be given pre-settled status (given to those who have been in the UK for less than five years as of December 31st, 2020). While this will be a big step in his journey towards getting off the streets, the Home Office is currently fighting attempts to ensure that people with pre-settled status are able to access the social security net in the courts. It is still unclear if with pre-settled status Vasile will be able to access the help he needs to change his situation. He says “the council has known about my struggles for a long time, but still things don’t change.”
Vasile now sells the Big Issue in Bristol to get a small income. Despite the challenges he has faced in the UK, he still hopes to stay here. He says that only in the UK will he be able to earn money to help his family back in Romania. In Romania, he says, it’s hopeless. Although Vasile blames the local council for his situation, NRPF conditions and entitlements and in many cases what local authorities can do about it are set by the national government.
Vasile feels left behind. He says he knows other people who have been in the UK a shorter time than him and who have never worked but are receiving support in terms of benefits and housing. Vasile’s message following his years of living in the UK without access to public funds is twofold. He says that accommodation is crucial and can completely change someone’s life. Moreover it is difficult to see others access support while not being able to access any yourself.
These stories are from a project supporting people to tell their stories and the views expressed are their own. Due to protecting people’s voice and privacy, we have not given statutory authorities the opportunity to respond and we appreciate they may present a different perception of the individual’s situation.