During the first lockdown at the end of March last year, a remarkable thing happened: rough sleepers disappeared from our streets. An unprecedented effort from statutory and voluntary organisations working in partnership enabled even those in some of the most challenging situations to access temporary accommodation.
Of course, it wasn’t perfect. There was still lots of hidden homelessness, people sofa-surfing, people in overcrowded accommodation, and what accommodation was provided was often not perfect, particularly not as time went on. The Everybody In initiative did, however, enable organisations to get a much clearer idea of who was rough sleeping and what are the barriers keeping them on the streets were.
Unsurprisingly, migration issues featured strongly among those in the temporary accommodation. That a significant number of rough sleepers are migrants is not news. The hostile environment, No Recourse to Public Funds, insecure immigration status, Windrush, lost documents and the problems of getting good immigration advice and casework have all been factors which have forced many migrants into homelessness.
Over the last few years, there have been moves across the homelessness sector to improve the way that it works with homeless migrants. It is clear that there is a deep chasm between the government rhetoric around migration, the talk of strong borders, deportation and removal and the reality that frontline services see day to day. The sector is starting to innovate. Partnerships with migrant organisations have increased and a single service offer of reconnection to country of origin is no longer seen as the only way of dealing with migrants who fall into homelessness. More and more services are thinking positively about what can be done, rather than seeing migrants as an intransigent group for whom there is no help.
With the reverberations of Brexit still ringing in our ears, and new challenges to come, such as newly arriving British National Overseas Visa holders from Hong Kong, now is the time to face the challenge of migrant homelessness, to bring sectors together to increase knowledge, share good practice, build stronger relationships and find workable solutions to the issues which confront us. It is with these aims in mind that we invite you to join us at our joint Praxis and Homeless Link conference, Homelessness & Migration: Working towards better solutions together, on 17 March. The conference brings together voluntary and statutory sector organisations working to end migrant homelessness and will showcase a range of projects, interventions and tools which can help us to understand and tackle migrant homelessness together. We hope that you will join us and bring your own contribution to the day.