Leeds initiative to tackle rough sleeping amongst destitute migrants from eastern Europe

Leeds is launching two new initiatives to cope with the problem of rough sleeping, particularly amongst destitute migrants from central and Eastern Europe.

The city council is financing a new “hub” in St George’s Crypt, where rough sleepers can be accommodated for up to 72 hours. And it’s also piloting a new service aimed at reducing offending amongst central and eastern European nationals, and preventing those held in custody from ending up sleeping rough on their release.

Rough sleepers will be referred to the new hub by the council, the police or CRI, the health and social care charity that the council employs to provide an outreach service to tackle the problem. The plan is that within the 72 hours the appropriate agencies will have had time to find a housing option for the rough sleeper.

Expand service into prisons and police cells

CRI’s outreach work has been successful in bringing the number of rough sleepers in the city down from 50 to 11, says a council report.   But the majority of rough sleepers are new, and many are destitute central and eastern European nationals “who are often involved in criminal behaviour” and have been processed through police custody suites and local prisons.

“Leeds wishes to expand the existing assertive outreach model into prisons and police cells so that likely rough sleepers can be identified and various measures explored so that they do not sleep rough upon release,” the report says.

Help to return home

What the CRI also manages for Leeds (and the rest of West Yorkshire) is something known as the Reconnections Service, which provides practical and financial support to destitute east European migrants who want to return to their home countries.

Since October 2009 Reconnections has helped 110 people return from Leeds, but none of them from HMP Leeds (Armley jail). One of the reasons for the pilot.

“CRI … will visit, advise and assist prisoners who have been identified as being at risk of rough sleeping on their release. All appropriate measures will be considered in finding ways to ensure that the prisoner does not sleep rough upon release. A key area will be to identify any Central and Eastern European prisoners who would like to return home but do not have the means to do so.”

Support will be available for those who want to stay and qualify for welfare assistance or who have a realistic chance of obtaining employment and supporting themselves, CRI says.

People traffickers

CRI’s Mark Moody

It’s a complicated business and a problem that’s by no means unique to Leeds. In London, it is estimated that more than half of rough sleepers are foreign nationals, and that a quarter are Eastern European.

The migrants being targeted in the one-year pilot in Leeds all come from the former communist countries that signed up to the EU in 2004 and 2007 – Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Estonia, Romania and Bulgaria.

Some came to find a better a life, but couldn’t get a job, CRI says. Others were brought to the UK under false pretences by people traffickers.

“These individuals usually have no recourse to public funds and consequently cannot access hostels or claim benefits,” says CRI. “They may have been exploited and/or have additional support needs that have made it difficult to find employment, such as substance misuse or mental illness.”

“There are unique circumstances that mark this group apart,” says CRI’s director of operations Mark Moody. “They have limited recourse to benefits, and many have no passport or identification. Often their language skills will be minimal and they don’t have established family support networks. All too often, they slip through the holes in society’s safety net, and find themselves trapped, unable to return home.”

Focus on City Centre, Beeston, Harehills

A report from CRI about the pilot says that at least 65% of the eastern European nationals it has been dealing with through its Reconnections service have been “victims of exploitation including trafficking for the purposes of forced labour and participation in organised criminal activities”.

“Many are committing low-level needs based offending as a result of finding themselves destitute,” it adds.

The CRI report makes it clear that the pilot is a collaboration between itself, West Yorkshire Police, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) and HMP Leeds, and will be focusing on “areas with higher criminal activity” such as Leeds City Centre, Beeston and Harehills.

“Interventions will be predominantly provided within the criminal justice system,” it says. “The service will also provide interventions in the wider community via targeted, multi-agency outreach and will look at developing the use of Conditional Cautions and Community Resolution Orders; the aim being to reduce the number of individuals that are entering/re-entering the criminal justice system.”

Option of “administrative removal”

“For persistent offenders, there will be a more assertive approach with more involvement from WYP and UKBA to examine whether Administrative Removal is an appropriate option,” it says.

Administrative removal is the most common route the UK uses to remove foreign nationals who have entered the country illegally, have overstayed or who have breached the conditions of their stay.

“CRI will develop training support with WYP and other stakeholders on how to respond to complaints at a local level, work with local communities to identify possible organised crime links and exchange information to proactively combat crime,” the report says.

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