Homeless and Hounded


Rough sleeping charities collude with the Home Office

Homeless people and rough sleepers are among one of the most vulnerable groups of people in Britian today, and that goes doubly so for undocumented migrants.  According to the charity Shelter, there are more than a quarter of a million homeless people in England. The role that homelessness charities play in protecting and helping these vulnerable people is vital. However, many of these charities have been failing their duty in protecting these people by passing information about them to the Home Office.  

Corporate Watch has released a report called the Round Up that highlights many charities’ connections to immigration enforcement. It states that many outreach teams from Homeless charities St Mungo’s, Thames Reach, and Change, Grow, Live organize joint ‘visits’ with Immigration Enforcement officers in central London boroughs. The visits have led to 133 rough sleepers being detained. In just under a year 127 people were deported in Westminister alone, which is the biggest concentration of London homelessness, and is where the patrols are more frequent.

The Round Up report contains eye-witness accounts of this happening, with one person who was arrested near Charing Cross stating that they were ‘never contacted by any outreach workers before the Immigration Officers came, they arrested me on the spot and took me to detention. I told them I was working for 18 months before, but it didn’t matter. Now I am in detention, they say they are going to deport me back to [an Eastern European country]. I have nowhere to live there.’

More than 8000 people slept rough on London’s streets during 2015-2016, and half of that number are from outwith the UK.  These are the main targets of the operation, with migrants from Romania, Poland, and other Eastern European countries being the most affected.  This follows the Home Office tightening the rules in May 2016, meaning that European rough sleepers could be arrested or deported if caught sleeping rough on just one night. This tough policy was supported by many senior charity managers from local homelessness charities such as St Mungo’s, Thames Reach, and Homeless Link.

The charity bosses state that their role is to persuade non-UK sleepers to leave voluntarily but in reality detention and enforced deportation is far more common, and many “voluntary” departures are carried out under the threat of force.  Outreach teams also reportedly pass on locations of non-UK rough sleepers to the Home Office’s ‘Immigration Compliance and Enforcement (ICE)’ teams through the use of a specific database, often unaware that this information is being passed on and how it is being used. The Round-Up report discusses how this collaboration of Homelessness charities with the ICE teams occurs, calling a ‘a slow or “creeping” process’ where ‘those involved may not notice how it happens’.

The report calls on homelessness workers and organizations to resist these schemes by refusing, or “forgetting” to fill in these databases that would give the Home Office information of the non-UK rough sleepers and to stop cooperating with the Homelessness charities that work with the Home Office.  They state that the managers of these charities may ‘set the policies but, of course, they only work if outreach workers actually follow them on the street.’ In a system that works on collaboration as this one does, it is important that workers fight it through ‘resistance and solidarity’.

The current climate of fear and distrust of migrants means it’s very easy to suggest that the work that these charities are doing is for the best, sweeping up these ‘undesirables’ and making sure our resources for the homeless goes to British people first. This kind of attitude is dangerous and causes harm to real people. Often these homeless people don’t have anywhere else to go, both in Britain and wherever they came from. They deserve support and help, not to be dumped somewhere offshore as someone else’s problem. Nobody wants to be homeless, and it is a terrifying, unstable place to be, even more so if it’s in a country you may be unfamiliar in.

These charities are letting down the people they claim to protect if they continue to pick and choose the kind of people they want to help and support, and who they want to abandon. Homeless people should be given support and help in finding a long-term place to stay where they’ll be safe, no matter where they originally came from.

[Jo Reid]

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