Many people have been in touch with me recently to discuss the proposed night shelter for asylum seekers in Ibrox. At successive several community council meetings this has been raised, and I have tried my best to guide locals, both for and against, along the process.
A key role of a local councillor is, of course, just that: to ensure everyone in the local community can have their voice heard. However, a councillor is also there to stand up for what they believe in and, whilst respecting the views of those opposing the shelter, and continuing to represent them as best I can, I believe I must speak out in favour of the proposal.
I know this will likely anger several local residents, some of whom I speak regularly to and have dealt with various pieces of casework for since I was elected in May. However, given that this proposal finally provides a night shelter for destitute female asylum seekers in Glasgow, something which incredibly doesn’t currently exist, I believe I must support it.
In the face of considerable pressure, the local community council has admirably tried to steer a neutral course over the last few months, inviting volunteers for the proposed shelter along to several meetings. Each time there has been considerable debate and the breadth of issues raised by both supporters and objectors goes far beyond the proposed night shelter.
A lot of the criticism speaks to a widespread concern which I strongly share: that Govan has long been ignored by the council and the Scottish Government.
There is a lot of positive work going on in Govan, but large sections of the community still seem to be ignored. Greater effort is needed in and around Fairley Street, for example, where the night shelter is being proposed, to generate and support local businesses and revitalise the area.
We need to create a business improvement district, centred on creating and sustaining meaningful local employment and social enterprises like Lingo Flamingo on Orkney Street, who are bringing isolated older people together, helping them to stay mentally active through learning a new language.
The debate has also highlighted the homelessness crisis we have in Glasgow. We pride ourselves in creating a welcoming city, placing our people as our greatest asset, yet we still seem to be failing individuals most in need.
The high levels of street sleeping in Glasgow is simply appalling. The main driver of the recent spike in homelessness is of course UK Government’s callous austerity and welfare cuts agenda, but I will fight to ensure that the next council budget provides as much support as possible to tackle homelessness.
And it is in amongst the wider homelessness crisis that we find destitute asylum seekers.
Asylum seekers have fled their country due to fear of persecution or violence. This could be for any number of reasons, including race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, political or religious beliefs. Whilst awaiting refugee status, many become destitute due to the very poor way their housing is managed by private contractors, or whilst appealing a Home Office decision. Others have been told they must return home but simply cannot face the prospect of returning to a country where they fear violence or imprisonment.
They live on just over £36 a week, which comes in the form of a credit card which can only be spent at certain supermarkets and cannot be saved up. They are not allowed to work and many face considerable barriers to pursuing their studies. From having previously worked at Scottish Refugee Council and having met many asylum seekers, I have learned of how degrading a process this is.
There is currently a shelter in Anderston, but it can only provide accommodation for males and as such many female asylum seekers are forced on to the streets. This is simply appalling.
Creating a night shelter, of course, will not resolve these problems by any means and we need to continue to campaign for more humane refugee policies by the UK Government. However, the council and the Scottish Government can and must step up its support for asylum seekers and the communities where they are housed.
There are significant local concerns that some individuals will have nowhere to go during the day. That is why I’m calling on the council and the Scottish Government to provide proper investment in support services to ensure they can integrate into the local community.
We have some great local organisations such as Govan Community Project and the Maslow’s shop but greater investment will go a long way. Integration is a two-way process and must reach out to include all sections of the community.
There are also several outstanding issues regarding the proposed shelter and I will continue to ask questions on this. This proposal has created some divisions within the local community and I will do my best to work with fellow councillors and the community council to ensure these are not lasting.
If you wish to either support or object to the proposals, you have until Tuesday, 13th February. More information, including what will be considered by planning officials as a valid objection, can be found here, and the application reference number is 17/03520/DC.
If you would like to discuss the proposals please email me on: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0141 287 5604.