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Over here, out of work and homeless

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In 2007, at the height of the economic boom, Szymon was one of many economic migrants who came to live and work in the UK from Poland. On his arrival in Leeds, he managed to find a job working for Asda and he rented a property. Unfortunately, after a year he lost his job, and as a result was unable to pay the rent. He had lost his passport, and suddenly found himself homeless; squatting in Leeds on and off for three years.

As local government bodies up and down the country are all too aware, this is a situation that more and more migrants from central and Eastern Europe are finding themselves in. They don’t speak the language, don’t understand how the systems work, and don’t have a well established support system to turn to.

That’s why at CRI, a national health and social care charity, we have been developing services that provide tailored support to homeless EU nationals in West Yorkshire, pointing them in the right direction for support services in the UK or, if they wish, helping them to make their way back to their home country.

We have to assess individual circumstances if we are to have any success in supporting people

The service, called Reconnections, is made up of a team of support workers, some of whom are from central and Eastern Europe themselves. Some service users are identified through street outreach, some when they’ve been in trouble with the police, and some are referred through councils, GPs, prisons, hostels and shelters. The service provides one-to-one support and advice, and is able to assist with obtaining travel documents through embassies. And if they don’t want to return home? The service will assess their needs and refer them on to the appropriate body here in the UK, whether they need support for alcohol or drug misuse, or just an appointment at the Job Centre.

This model is already well established in West Yorkshire, and the results show a consistent need for the service. Since the service began, they have engaged with 269 people – over 200 have returned home and the rest were referred into other services in the UK. Elements of the service are implemented through street outreach services in Brighton, Cambridge and other areas of the country.

In October 2011 Szymon was arrested for shoplifting and taken to a Leeds police station from which he was later released with a caution. While in custody he was made aware of CRI’s Reconnections service, and expressed an interest in returning to Poland.

A Polish speaking worker from the Reconnections team spoke to Szymon, and agreed an action plan which included contacting the Polish Consulate to apply for a temporary travel document and assisting Szymon to register with the homeless healthcare team and engage with alcohol services. Szymon felt motivated to engage with services during this crucial initial intervention, but like many entrenched rough sleepers involved in street drinking, found it difficult to sustain motivation and required support from our service over a number of months, during which engagement varied.

Szymon finally decided to change his situation after several nights in cold weather accommodation, during which we were able to continue daily contact and encouragement. Szymon cut down his drinking to an acceptable level and his GP signed him off as fit for travel. We accompanied him to the Polish Consulate in Manchester where he was issued with a temporary passport. We accompanied him to the airport the following day and he returned to his brother and sister in Poland.

Figures are not available on a national level, but it’s clear that Szymon is representative of a growing trend. The Department of Communities and Local Government’s latest rough sleeping figures reveal that 52% of people sleeping on the streets of London are foreign nationals, and 28% are from within the EU.

Along with CRI, homelessness charity Thames Reach runs a similar service in London, and the Department for Communities and Local Government is beginning to support these kinds of services.

We know that homelessness and rough sleeping are complex, and that we have to assess individual circumstances if we are to have any success in supporting people. If we are to continue improving services, we must recognise the specific challenges faced by foreign nationals.

  • CRI, Thames Reach and the DCLG are running a conference entitled ‘Reconnections: Homelessness and EU Nationals’ at the Victoria Park Plaza Hotel in London on Monday 16 April, It is aimed at local authorities and other bodies interested in commissioning services aimed at foreign nationals. For more information and to register, visit www.cri.org.uk/reconnections

Mark Moody, director of operations, CRI

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