Lessons from Europe
Free movement within the European Union is in the headlines today. The overwhelming majority of people who move to a new country anywhere in Europe aim to find work and build a better life for themselves, and are successful in doing so. But London is facing a growing problem of people from EU countries who move to Britain and tragically end up sleeping on our streets.
Last year, over 7,500 people slept rough in London at some point – a shocking figure which has doubled over 5 years. Of those people, 2,695 or 34%, were citizens of a Central or Eastern European country. The largest group by far were Romanian, followed by Polish, Lithuanian and Bulgarian.
The reasons why migrants from the EU might end up homeless are complex. They may end up in precarious or low paying work, so can’t build up financial stability. Their work might be seasonal or short term, such as agriculture or construction. Access to benefits has been cut so there is a limited safety net for people who fall out of work, and without friends or family in the country they may not have support to fall back on. Some have been trafficked to the country and are being abused or exploited.
Rough sleeping is dangerous and isolating. People who sleep rough face very poor health outcomes and are at a huge risk of crime. Regardless of how migrants end up sleeping rough, we need to make sure the support is there to get off the streets.
Earlier this week, I went to a conference in Brussels arranged by FEANTSA, the umbrella body for organisations across the European Union working with homeless people, to discuss migrant homelessness in countries across Europe.
There is a problem in all the major European cities. For instance, outreach workers in Copenhagen estimate that 80-90% of rough sleepers in the city are from other European counties.
But there are some good examples of best practice. In Sweden, the Crossroads project combines funding from the EU, the Swedish employment service and the city of Stockholm to provide advice, training and support for homeless migrants. In Denmark, the municipality of Copenhagen funds different charities to provide shelter, counselling and employment support. Both cities support people to return home, but only when they want to go.
Unfortunately there are no easy solutions. But at Crisis we are starting to develop ideas about what approach the UK government and city mayors should take to ensure no one who moves to Britain for a better life ends up sleeping on the streets:
- Replicate successful projects in different cities, like Stockholm and Copenhagen.
- Make use of any available funding from the EU – the European Aid for the Most Deprived and the European Social Fund could both be used to fund services for homeless migrants.
- Support people to return home in a responsible way, making sure there is support for them when they arrive.
- Provide short term accommodation and more emergency shelter so at the very least no-one has to sleep on the streets in the coldest weather.
- Crack down on trafficking and support people who have been brought to the country to be exploited.
We are calling for the next Mayor of London to support these ideas, and many more, to make London the greatest city in the world at solving homelessness – sign up to our campaign.