Edward, Roma Outreach Mediator, first met Niculita & Tereza when they were camping in the local area. Here, he tells the their story.
It was Sunday 6 February, a cold and frosty evening, when the head of the Roma Rough Sleeping Team asked me if I’d like to go along and meet with people who were camping in the local area to see how they are doing.
It was around 7pm when we entered the camp. I was quite anxious as it was one of my first times making contact with a large group of people who – due to their ethnicity – were left out, marginalised by the community. When I met them I was stunned, and perplexed to learn about real-life discrimination as a result of police actions, which I had previously only read about.
The head of the service introduced me, and I began talking with each and every one of them to learn their story, experiences, and how best to work with them.
“It felt like a carousel with feelings of excitement and sadness mixed in.”
It was then that a couple emerged from their tent and cautiously approached us. I learned their names were Niculita and Tereza.
After talking with Niculita, I asked Tereza if she’d mind answering a few basic questions. I could tell she was shy, withdrawn, distant, and lacking confidence. I realised straight away that her reaction was due to the fact that she didn’t know me and that gaining her trust would be difficult. It is about regaining confidence in people as their experience clearly left a negative perception upon the way they viewed outsiders.
I left the camp that evening enraged. These people weren’t asking for much. They just needed assistance with navigating the bureaucratic hurdles to get access to medical services, as well as help in finding accommodation since they were already in full time employment.
Within the next few days, we began to work on a strategy to permanently end their homelessness. The workload was divided into stages, which relieved the couple of stress despite the fact that they were working full time. The couple was immediately relocated to temporary accommodation, and the camp was cleared. It was a collaborative effort, and the results came quickly. What is more important is that their lives depended on their actions. It wasn’t long after they were placed in temporary accommodation that the storm wrecked their tents. We were astounded to learn that the camp was destroyed because of Storm Eunice and that we had literally saved their lives. Tereza’s happiness and appreciation were evident when she found out what had happened.
Within the following days we went to the Romanian consulate to collect Niculita’s new passport, to register them with a local GP, and to open their new bank accounts.
“Tereza was becoming more active, asking questions and engaging in conversations, but most importantly, she smiled.”
They have also seen the employment adviser from The Passage.
When a new claim for Universal Credit (UC) was submitted, it was yet another obstacle to overcome. Despite having Pre-Settled status and working full time, somehow they failed the habitual residence test. It wasn’t good news to deliver because I knew it would sadden them yet again. Following the mandatory reconsideration, their UC claim was finally accepted, and their claim was back on track thanks to the assistance of the benefits team and good full day of research. But it wasn’t the only challenge.
As we say, “third time’s the charm”. The next challenge was finding a permanent place to live. It felt like a carousel with feelings of excitement and sadness mixed in. Because they had no rental history, most landlords or letting agents turned down their application because they were “unsuitable” for their requirements. However, it wasn’t long before the couple found permanent housing with our assistance. They also succeeded in their job interview for a new job.
After four months of living indoors, you could see how they were slowly and gradually changing. Tereza was becoming more active, asking questions and engaging in conversations, but most importantly, she smiled. All this time they both showed motivation which I think it is an invaluable lesson for everyone.
Today, Niculita and Tereza live in a studio flat located in Tower Hamlets. They are both full time employees and have their UC claim opened. What is more important is that we still communicate often and openly.