Rough sleeper charities ‘turned into informers’
Claims that vulnerable are ‘disappeared’ into deportation
09 March, 2017 — By William McLennan
COLLABORATION between homeless charities and immigration officers was called into question this week after it was revealed they carried out fortnightly “joint visits” to interview rough sleepers.
A report released this week, entitled The Round Up, raised concerns about the passing of information between homeless outreach workers and Home Office enforcement teams – with claims that some rough sleepers have been detained and deported as a result. But the charities who work with the many homeless people in the borough defended the practice and said it is sometimes the only remaining option to help get people off the street.
The report, compiled by Corporate Watch, was based on Freedom of Information requests to London councils, asked how many times outreach teams – deployed to help vulnerable rough sleepers – had carried out joint visits with Home Office officials.
In Camden, which has the second highest number of people, after neighbouring Westminster, seen sleeping rough, outreach workers from the council’s SaferStreets team were found to have carried out 24 “joint visits” in 12 months. The charities openly work to help foreign rough sleepers return home through “voluntary reconnections”, but the report raises concerns about what information is passed to immigration enforcement if a person refuses to co-operate.
The report said: “Charity outreach workers set out to help homeless people. But through a creeping process of changes they are being turned into informers, while some of the city’s most vulnerable people are disappeared into the nightmare of indefinite detention and deportation.”
Mark Moody, executive director of health and social care at charity Change, Grow, Live – paid by Camden Council to run the Safer Streets team – said: “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. “When there is no other option and the person has refused reconnection, they are unable to work and cannot be housed, there is little alternative to them going back to their home country.”
Cllr Jonathan Simpson, cabinet member of community safety, said: “When an individual sleeping rough has no access to public funds we will do everything we can to support them by offering them assistance with employment or by making arrangements for them to return home in a supported way.”
He added: “This work can on occasions take many months and there are times when rough sleepers do not take up the help being offered. This means their health can deteriorate, often critically. Where people are at risk of harm, we work with a range of partners, including the Home Office as a very last resort, to plan a way for them to safely return home. We believe it is morally wrong to simply deport people sleeping rough without offering them support.”