How we help non-UK nationals who are sleeping rough

51% of people sleeping rough across London are non-UK nationals

How we help non-UK nationals who are sleeping rough

Thames Reach provides a range of outreach services to people sleeping rough in London and Surrey. We know that sleeping rough is damaging and dangerous and the purpose of our outreach services is to provide these people with a route off the streets.

In the year 2018/19 the Greater London Authority CHAIN database recorded around 51% of people sleeping rough across London as being nationals of a state other than the UK.  This group does not have access to many of the accommodation and support options that are open to UK nationals and, as a result, they tend to spend longer sleeping rough and are more likely to die on the streets.

Establishing immigration status means that people can then establish entitlement to support.  Our outreach staff are not qualified to provide immigration advice and where we are working with people with unclear immigration status, we will encourage them to seek appropriate independent advice from advisers and organisations who are approved by the Office of Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC), and who will ensure that they fully understand and consent to any necessary information sharing.  This means that we do not share personal information with the Home Office, but instead refer to appropriate agencies for specialist advice and support.

We believe that people sleeping rough should be entitled to the protection of society, regardless of their nationality or immigration status, and we will continue to work actively with local authority services (such as safeguarding and child protection), and other statutory agencies where this is justified by the risk to the individual, other people sleeping rough, members of the public or staff.

Alex’s story

Having lived in the UK for 35 years, Alex found herself needing support accessing the EU Settlement Scheme

Alex’s story

Alex* has dual nationality, having been born in France but later grew up in Spain. Her parents are Hungarian and Polish respectively. She is 56 years old and has spent the last 35 years living in the UK with a valid permanent residence card, which she got in 2015. These cards are being phased out and will no longer be accepted after 31 December 2020, so she needed to apply for the government’s EU Settlement Scheme.

She lives alone and is a client of Thames Reach’s Tenancy Sustainment Team and regularly uses the services at Brent Reach. She has previously experienced homelessness and slept rough for a short time. In April 2019 Alex had a stroke, which means she currently cannot move or walk easily. Tremors in her arms make it difficult for her to sign or write documents, so it was crucial that the EU Settlement Scheme team at Thames Reach were able to assist with the process of applying to the scheme.

Alex lacks digital skills and does not own electronic devices, other than an old smartphone which she does not like, struggles to use and does not understand. She speaks English but her first language is Spanish, so there are some language barriers in completing the process. With multiple physical and mental health support needs, it was important that she received sufficient support throughout the process. During the initial meeting with the team, she suffered a panic attack, caused in part by the fact that she feels anxious, depressed and unwelcome by Brexit and topics explored in the EU Settlement Scheme.

After the initial struggle with the system, Alex has now successfully applied to the EU Settlement Scheme with the help of Thames Reach. Although she still admits to disliking the scheme, she has a much better understanding of it now and feels great relief that she has been able to complete the process. Her settled status has just been confirmed, and she is now looking to the future.

Our client’s name has been changed for confidentiality

EU Settlement Scheme — how we’re helping homeless and vulnerable people from the EU during Brexit

Fernando Suárez Veronelli, Lead Worker on Thames Reach’s EU Settlement Scheme project, writes about his role in supporting European nationals to secure their residency rights and move away from homelessness

EU Settlement Scheme — how we’re helping homeless and vulnerable people from the EU during Brexit

Now that the United Kingdom has formally left the European Union, European nationals living in this country are seeing changes to their residency rights. Last year, a new EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) was launched, aimed at allowing European citizens and their eligible family members to continue living in the UK during, and after, the Brexit process. The EUSS is open to EU, EEA, and Swiss citizens who take up residence in the UK prior to the deadline of 31 December 2020.

In addition to this scheme, the Home Office has also funded a project aimed at helping homeless and vulnerable European citizens with their applications. Thames Reach is one of 58 organisations working to deliver this.

According to the latest figures from the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN), a Greater London Authority-commissioned database that records information about rough sleeping in London, 39% of the people seen sleeping rough in the capital between October and December 2019 were EU nationals. European citizens can’t access the same services as UK nationals, including vital support that prevents people from ending up on the streets, such as emergency accommodation. This issue is often made even worse by many vulnerable and at-risk people having an uncertain residency status. As a result, the number of people from the EU sleeping rough in London has reached appalling levels, and this lack of access to support also makes it harder for Thames Reach to help them escape a dire situation.

Thames Reach’s EU Settlement Scheme began in September 2019, and is accredited by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner. In my role as Lead Worker, I help coordinate and deliver the project, working with people who have come into contact with Thames Reach and other similar organisations. By helping clients to secure their residency status through the EUSS, we can also better help them access the support they need. This, in turn, can help prevent them from becoming homeless or returning to the streets.

Before I joined Thames Reach, I studied Human Rights and Peace Management at the Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana in Mexico City, and have also studied Middle Eastern conflict and leadership skills. I have on-the-job training on various aspect of refugee law and have worked extensively with refugees on behalf of the Mexican Refugee Office. After moving to London, I worked and volunteered as a fundraiser at War Child and at the Indoamerican Refugee and Migrant Organisation, which eventually led me to this role.

We run our EU Settlement Scheme project right across London, operating from various Thames Reach sites and running drop-in centres in the boroughs of Brent, Lambeth, Lewisham, Newham and Southwark, as well as making home visits so that clients get the help they need with their application and other support needs.

For many vulnerable people, the EUSS application process can be difficult to access. Issues can include: a lack of digital skills; language barriers; a lack access to the internet or electronic devices; a lack of documentation in order to prove residence; or simply just a lack of awareness about the scheme’s existence. Then there are other difficulties our clients face, such as mental or physical health problems, which can be major factors in becoming homeless and tend to be made worse by time spent sleeping on the streets.

In most cases, we have regular face-to-face appointments with each client, working through their particular needs. We aim to make sure that they’re comfortable, and that they understand the service and the situation they’re facing. We then take them through each stage of the EUSS application, helping them gather the right information, and also covering what will happen, and what might need to be done, when the outcome arrives.

People tend to engage and react more positively to a personalised service; they feel heard, understood, and included. We aim to make sure that clients feel their personal circumstances are being attended to. We always encourage people to express their doubts, direct them to other necessary support, and we never give up on anyone.

As an immigrant myself, I can empathise and relate to the feelings people have when completing an immigration application. Even though the EUSS has reported a very low number of refusals, applicants can still feel a great deal of anxiety when applying, particularly people who are vulnerable or in hard-to-reach groups.

At present, the Home Office is only funding this project until 31 March 2020, leaving us with only a small window of opportunity within which to support as many applications as possible. So far, over 220 people have accessed our project, and over 110 homeless or vulnerable European citizens have been made aware of the scheme. Over 80 of them have received one-to-one advice and support to apply to the EUSS, with 53 having successfully applied so far.

We are very happy and proud of our work to date on this project, particularly the outcomes we’ve achieved, and when seeing the sense of relief on people’s faces when their applications are approved and they know that their residency is secure. This kind of reassurance can go a long way in preventing vulnerable people from becoming homeless.

Thames Reach is very concerned about the large numbers of European nationals sleeping rough and the limited options available to them. We will keep looking at ways of preventing homelessness from happening, and supporting those people who do find themselves on the streets.

Fernando Suárez Veronelli

Latest CHAIN figures show further rise in rough sleeping in London

CHAIN stats for Oct – Dec 2018 rise 25% on same quarter in 2017

Latest CHAIN figures show further rise in rough sleeping in London

The latest statistics released by the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) for the period 1 October – 31 December 2018 has shown another rise in the number of people sleeping rough in London, rising 6% on the previous quarter and 25% on the same period in 2017.

The figures also show a very concerning rise in new rough sleepers, with the number of people new to streets 38% higher than the same period last year.

Catherine Parsons, Director of Operations at Thames Reach, said: “This worrying statistic demonstrates a need for more preventative services to ensure less people end up finding themselves on the streets.”

The data also shows that 83% of new rough sleepers were helped off the streets after just one night, highlighting the good work being done by GLA commissioned services, as well as the impact of additional resources recently allocated to support this service.

People from Central and Eastern Europe now represent 32% of all rough sleepers in London.

“As we have said before, there are growing concerns for this group as many have very limited support options available to them,” said Catherine.

“We want to work with central government to identify new options for EU rough sleepers and to do more to prevent people ending up on the streets in the first place.”

Thames Reach’s focus for 2019

As this year comes to an end, Thames Reach’s Chief Executive, Bill Tidnam, talks about the charity’s focus for the year ahead.

Thames Reach’s focus for 2019

Thames Reach Chief Executive, Bill Tidnam, talks about the charity’s focus for 2019.

“I’m proud of the work we do to prevent and reduce rough sleeping in London. Not just getting people off the streets, but helping people rebuild their lives after, as well as intervening to prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place.

“For us, as a homelessness charity, it’s important to tell it as it is – to make use of our experience, and the experience of the people we work with, to explain what we do to end rough sleeping and why we do it.

“The number of people sleeping rough has increased in recent years, and we’re now seeing a co-ordinated response from central government which is focused on reducing and eventually ending rough sleeping. While we may quibble over the levels of investment, and the previous reductions in funding for local authorities, we welcome this change, and think it has the potential to make a real difference.

“Homelessness is a complex problem which affects thousands of people, and it’s important to recognise that the solutions aren’t simple.

“Over the next year we’re keen to focus on three issues we know have a particular impact on rough sleepers and rough sleeping in London.

“1. Poor health can be a cause and a result of street homelessness, and we know that people who are homeless don’t always get the help they need from the NHS. Therefore we’re keen to build on the excellent work that we already do with the NHS to make sure that homeless people can access and get the support they need to improve their health.

“2. We also want to talk about the benefits system, and about the consequences of changes to the system and the way in it is administered, which can mean that people can become homeless and then stay homeless for longer.

“We’d like to work with the Department for Work and Pension to find solutions for the people we are supporting, using our experience and knowledge on the ground.

“3. Finally, we want to think about what we can do to help rough sleepers from the European Union to get off the streets. Around 28% of people rough sleeping in London are from other countries in the EU and don’t have any entitlement to government help. We have become increasingly concerned about some people in this group and their wellbeing, and feel we need more discussions about how best to respond to this issue.

“Over the coming year, we will be sharing stories and experiences regarding these issues to inspire more people to support and understand the work we do, and to assist in our vision of ending street homelessness, helping people to find decent homes, build supportive relationships and lead fulfilling lives.”