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The Immigration Advice for Rough Sleepers Fund (IARSF) enabled cross-sector partnerships to provide better access to immigration advice. The fund was established to address the advice needs of rough sleeping migrants, and to improve integration of homelessness and immigration services.

 Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network(LMRN)  were one of the organisations to be awarded a grant and they in turn funded partners Bench Outreach. This description of their work shows the impact that can be achieved by of cross-sector working and integration.

How the project worked

LRMN partnered with Bench Outreach to bring together homelessness and immigration services in east and southeast London. Based in Deptford, LRMN are a leading migrants’ rights organisation with experience in providing a range of holistic services. Bench Outreach, also based in Deptford, provide support to people experiencing poverty, exclusion and deprivation. 

To improve the integration of immigration and homelessness services, LRMN and Bench were funded to establish a formal referral partnership. An IARSF funded worker based at Bench worked with homelessness organisations in Lewisham, Tower Hamlets and Greenwich to take referrals. These were then passed on to LRMN who employed an OISC (Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner) Level 3 advisor with IARSF funding. This meant that non-UK national rough sleepers were able to access advice services while at the same time maintaining contact with other services, such as housing and support.

Impact of the fund

The IARSF allowed LRMN and Bench to improve their referral pathways with a focus on providing rough sleepers with immigration advice. It meant that people could access the advice they needed to regularise their status as well as accessing homelessness services at the same time.

For example, one young woman they supported was from Ukraine and had been referred from Bench Outreach to LRMN before the outbreak of war in the country. She had been in the UK for  a significant amount of time and was potentially a victim of trafficking. LRMN took the referral and during face to face meetings with her they discovered that she was experiencing domestic abuse. She was helped to access LRMN’s women’s service where she was provided with a counsellor and a Domestic Violence support worker.

The immigration advice she received at the same time meant that she was also able to address very practical issues surrounding her immigration status. LRMN worked with an external organisation that assists trafficking victims and were able to assist her. While her case is ongoing, the integration of immigration and homelessness services has ensured that she is able to make some progress with her immigration status.

"The funding has allowed us to work with partners in constructive and meaningful ways. Working together, we are able to pool our expertise, which has been a great help in assisting our clients in rebuilding their lives. We are grateful for the opportunity to have gained a deeper understanding of the relationship between homelessness and migration alongside our partner organisations and will be leaning into these partnerships as we continue to support migrants, refugees and asylum seekers." Said Sylvia Akinmusire, who led the Bench Project.

Lessons Learnt

LRMN and Bench highlighted the complexity of the cases that they encountered during the funded period and this was reflected across the other IARSF projects  fund . LRMN pointed out in their reporting that many people had also experienced issues like trafficking, or their cases included protection needs e.g., humanitarian protection. This was coupled with the challenge to maintain contact with rough sleepers who are often difficult to locate.

LRMN also stressed the need for robust referral relationships with legal aid providers. Again, this goes hand in hand with the complexity of cases that they encountered and the need to ensure clients receive the appropriate level of advice for their case. The referral pathways that they built with Bench Outreach meant that they could maintain better contact with clients who often lead precarious lives and are linked into multiple services at once. The same needs to be replicated for relationships with legal aid providers.

The learning from the fund speaks to wider immigration issues within homelessness populations and the need for more joined up working, as this fund aimed to develop. The IARSF allowed organisations to work across sectors and formalise their referral relationships into partnerships that worked for the best of the clients, offering a truly holistic service.

The Immigration advice for Rough Sleepers Fund was funded by the Greater London Authority and managed by Homeless Link. This is the first in a series of blogs, leading up to the launch of the IARSF learning report, looking at three grant holders from the fund. Look out for our next blog, released next week.