Thames Reach
Monday 20 November 2017
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Working with migrant rough sleepers

8 March 2017 

Rough sleeping outreach
Outreach workers providing support

Thames Reach’s outreach services support rough sleepers found on London’s streets by helping them escape homelessness and destitution.


Thames Reach has worked with vulnerable rough sleepers for over 30 years and our staff witness on a daily basis the dangers of sleeping rough, the detrimental effect it has on people’s health and the potential for destitute people to die on the streets.


In order to work effectively we have developed a wide range of partnerships that enable us to help rough sleepers move away from the streets. These include partnerships with councils and housing organisations, health services, faithgroups, employers and training providers, the police and, in the last few years, with migrant charities and the Home Office.


Non-UK nationals sleeping rough

The latest annual figures (CHAIN annual report for Greater London April 2015 – March 2016) indicate that 59% or 4,675 of the 8,096 people seen sleeping rough in London were non-UK nationals. Most had no rights to welfare benefits or housing. We employ staff from a range of different countries, particularly from Central and Eastern Europe, who have excellent language skills and understand the cultural needs of people from EEA countries who are sleeping rough.


For some non-UK nationals, Thames Reach can provide support to help them find legal work so they can successfully make a new life in this country. We can also help people access legal support in situations where people have complex immigration issues to resolve.

However, Thames Reach also knows from years of experience that for destitute non-UK rough sleepers, their best option is to come off the streets and be helped to return home voluntarily. Many of the people we encounter sleeping rough in the UK have homes and families in their home country.


In the period April 2016 to January 2017, Thames Reach outreach team supported 92 people to return home voluntarily. The cost of their travel was covered, they were put back in touch with family and friends and connected with accommodation providers and support agencies, including drug and alcohol treatment services and mental health specialists. We stay in touch with individuals to ensure that they are successfully getting their lives back on track.



Involvement with the Home Office

Under residency guidelines, EEA migrants have the right to be admitted to the UK and have an initial right to reside for three months. They are required to be in work by the end of the three-month period unless they are a self-sufficient person who is not a burden on the social assistance system. Rough sleepers from the EEA who are in breach of government residency guidelines face the possibility ofadministrative removal by the Home Office. 


Under EEA administrative removal guidelines for Home Office staff, there is a requirement that encounters with vulnerable rough sleepers should be planned and undertaken in cooperation with the local authorities’ outreach services, notably where the person is dependent on alcohol or drugs. They must be referred to the relevant local authority before a proportionate decision is made regarding removal.  Where the Home Office conclude that administrative removal is necessary, Thames Reach will work with Home Office staff to encourage a voluntary reconnection as an alternative to detention and removal, and to ensure that individuals understand the process with which they are involved.


If a person provides evidence that they are no longer sleeping rough, they are no longer liable for removal under this regulation. Thames Reach staff always seek to ensure that vulnerable rough sleepers, particularly those who are dependent on drugs or alcohol or have mental health issues get the support they need.  Additionally we will advocate on behalf of rough sleepers who may be forced to sleep rough as a result of sudden changes in circumstances and are seeking accommodation to escape rough sleeping.


Case study

Marta’s* experience of living in London, where she arrived from Poland, did not turn out as she had hoped. She was unable to find work and things went from bad to worse when she started drinking heavily. She was found living in a graveyard in north-west London by outreach workers working at night with rough sleepers. She was dangerously ill and struggling with a serious alcohol problem.

Marta was admitted to hospital and afterwards outreach workers visited her and encouraged her to take up the offer of a supported reconnection. They were able to secure her a place at an alcohol rehabilitation centre back in Poland. She successfully completed the treatment and is now housed in her home town in Poland in her own flat. She is working at a health centre, is back in touch with her daughter and is the proud owner of pet cats.

*name changed to protect her identity.