Homeless charities 'flagging rough sleepers to Government immigration enforcers'

Report describes 'creeping process of changes' leading to those meant to protect vulnerable becoming 'informers'

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The Independent Online

Homeless charities are sharing information with the Home Office about vulnerable rough sleepers, leading to their detention or forced deportation, a damning report has claimed. 

Corporate Watch revealed Government immigration patrols targeting London’s homeless population are being facilitated by a group of leading charities.

The Round Up report described a “creeping process of changes” leading to those whose mission is to protect rough sleepers becoming “informers”.  

It revealed the Greater London Assembly (GLA) contracted multiple charities under “payment by numbers” schemes and found the Mayor, local councils, along with homelessness charities, had all been complicit in enacting Theresa May's “hostile environment” immigration policy. 

Outreach teams from charities St Mungo's, Thames Reach, and Change, Grow, Live (CGL) were all found to conduct regular joint patrols with government immigration enforcement officers, according to the report. 

Green GLA member Sian Berry told The Independent homeless charities should not be asked to contribute to the Government’s “toxic” policy or facilitate forced removals. 

“Fearing forced removal has the potential to make rough sleepers feel they can’t approach charity-run services that they desperately need and could push destitute people into even worse situations,” she said. 

“Charities should be left to help people, not undermine their core purpose in this way.”

A number of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests submitted by Corporate Watch found 141 patrols had been organised by the GLA and 12 London boroughs in 2016. 

The report found visits to just eight boroughs led to 133 rough sleepers being detained. It also found 127 people were deported in under a year in Westminster alone.

Immigration enforcement efforts targeting non-UK homeless people were ramped up last May. The new rules mean European rough sleepers can be arrested for deportation if found on the streets on just one night.

The report found EU nationals are the main targets for the enforcement efforts, with migrants from Romania, Poland, and other eastern European countries badly affected.

A spokesperson for Thames Reach confirmed the charity collaborates with the Home Office with a view to helping rough sleepers “return home voluntarily.”

“Thames Reach 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,” he said. 

St Mungo’s Chief Executive Howard Sinclair told The Independent the charity only works with the Home Office when an individual has given their consent. 

He said: “We think leaving a vulnerable person to die on the streets is unacceptable. Our outreach teams are commissioned by local authorities. If they are working with non UK nationals sleeping rough they would first ensure that people understand their rights and entitlements, including, where feasible, assistance to take up options in the UK like work and housing.

“Partnership working is key in helping people to move away from the streets, recover their lives and not return to rough sleeping. We work with migrant charities, domestic abuse organisations, health services, probation services, the police, local authorities and many others.”

A CGL spokesperson said: “We do all we can to help rough sleepers to get help, regardless of their background or nationality. We explore all options in terms of employment and housing, and have helped hundreds of rough sleepers in the past 12 months. 

“We work with a number of local authorities and statutory agencies around the country to reduce the risks faced by rough sleepers and find solutions to their sometimes complex needs. 

“If employment or housing cannot be found for an EU national, we will offer supported reconnection to that home country or somewhere they have relatives, and liaise with services there to ensure they have a place to go.”

Charities Crisis and Shelter told The Independent neither works with or shares information with the Home Office. 

A Home Office spokesperson told The Independent: “It is unacceptable for anyone to come to the UK with the intention of sleeping rough and/or to beg on the streets to support themselves.

“Those who are encountered rough sleeping may be misusing their free movement rights. We will take action, including removal from the UK where appropriate, against EEA nationals who refuse to find alternative accommodation. 

“We work closely with local councils and homelessness outreach services to ensure that those who are vulnerable receive the care they need.”