46 nationalities rough sleeping in Camden: From distant shores to London pavements
PUBLISHED: 08:00 29 January 2016
Almost half of rough sleepers in Camden last year were from abroad with by far the largest number coming from Romania, new figures have revealed.
Data gathered by the Ham&High has shown people hailing from 46 countries across the globe and all seven continents - including as far afield as Japan, Iran and Fiji - were sleeping homeless on the streets of the borough in 2015.
The figures from Camden Council reveal foreign nationals accounted for 47 per cent of the total 601 rough sleepers last year, raising concerns that people coming to this country for a better life are finding it hard to eke out a living.
They also show the borough has seen changing patterns of homelessness, with people from Romania replacing Polish nationals as the largest single group of street sleepers after UK citizens.
Cllr Jonathan Simpson, cabinet member for community safety, said: “New rough sleepers are arriving on the streets of Camden in increasing numbers from the UK and from parts of Europe.
“This is due to difficult economic conditions.
“The council’s specialist outreach service, the Safer Streets Team, is working to ensure that all rough sleepers, including foreign nationals, receive a service offer which means they no longer have to sleep rough, or the offer of support and resources so that they can return to their home area.”
The Romanian community in London has risen constantly since the country joined the European Union in 2007, according to the Romanian Embassy.
But citizens have only been able to work in the UK without restrictions since January 2014 when transitional controls restricting their rights to employment and benefits were lifted.
Case study: The Syrian rough sleeper
Camden outreach workers told investigations unit reporter Emma Youle about one foreign homeless man they encountered on patrol:
“We came across a guy from Syria once and he’d had a nightmare. He’d done the whole journey walking through Europe to get here, I wouldn’t want to tell you what he’d seen but it was horrendous.
‘‘Speaking to him about his experiences I felt quite sick. It wasn’t necessarily how he’d been treated in England, it was how he was treated on the journey and the pretty horrendous stuff he had witnessed.
‘‘It was two or three years ago when he came over, so he’s not part of the current crisis with refugees.
‘‘We found him rough sleeping. He had leave to remain and had been living in temporary accommodation with a friend but ended up on the street.
‘‘You could tell he had lots of mental health problems, he seemed to be suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, he had a need to talk about what was going on.
‘‘We encouraged him to get support. It shouldn’t just be about accommodation, it’s about linking people into support networks as well.”
The number of Romanians sleeping homeless in Camden has risen over that time and overtook Poland for the first time last year.
This has also coincided with the government tightening benefit rules in 2014 so that foreign nationals cannot claim housing benefit, and so cannot be placed in hostels, unless they are in work.
“When we come across someone from Europe who is down on their luck, the first thing we look at is can we get this guy a job, can we get him back on his feet,” said Ian Bangay, project manager of Camden’s Safer Streets Team.
“We will dust people down, buy them a new suit of clothes, whatever it takes so they’re ready for interviews. But if your address is Sainsbury’s car park people are not that inclined to employ you.”
The first port of call is often to try to organise an offer of supported reconnection to their home country.
But the stigma of having ended up on the streets and not found work to support their families will often prevent foreign street sleepers from accepting such offers, it is said.
“People don’t choose to come to Britain to sleep on the streets,” said Mr Bangay.
“They come to Britain because they think we’re a richer country and there’s more chance of work.
“They go home to their family homeless, maybe with an alcohol habit, they’ve self-medicated to cope with the horror of the streets, the sense of shame is too high in many cases.”
Camden has seen a shocking rise in homelessness with more than 600 rough sleepers recorded for the first time in five years in 2015. The high cost of housing, economic conditions, and the prevalence of legal highs in the borough are all understood to have contributed to the issue.
Mr Bangay warned against succumbing to stereotypes when trying to find ways to tackle the problem.
“If we ignore it because of the right-wing agenda it’s not going to go away,” he said.
“We need to say there’s 78 or 100 Romanians that have been sleeping on the streets, because Romania needs to do something about it as well, and maybe someone in Hampstead will be reading this and think that he or she can do something about that.”
WHAT TO DO IF YOU SEE A ROUGH SLEEPER OR BEGGAR
You can call at all hours, seven days a week, to report a sighting of someone rough sleeping or begging in Camden on 020 7833 7970 or 0808 800 000. Every effort will be made to help them access services, support and a bed for the night.
SUPPORT CAMDEN SAFER STREETS TEAM’S WINTER APPEAL
Camden Safer Streets Team is asking London residents to help people who are sleeping rough on the streets of Camden this winter.
At this time of year homeless people in the area will be bitterly cold, hungry and vulnerable.
People who are homeless are three times more likely to die of pneumonia or hypothermia than the general population so the team’s work is particularly vital during the winter months.
The winter appeal asks local residents for a £10 gift that will go specifically to help the support team find safe places for people to live, and to buy personal items for them such as clothing and toiletry items.
Donations will also give someone a chance to reconnect with families or friends.
To find out more visit the Camder Safer Streets Team Winter Appeal Just Giving page