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Half of Scotland's homeless eastern European

December 05 2009
Most need only signposting, says drop-in charity
Around half of those seeking help from a homeless crisis centre in Edinburgh are migrant workers from Eastern Europe, mostly from Poland.

Streetwork UK, a charitable organization funded by local authorities, operates a drop-in centre to intervene in crisis situations and estimates that about half of the 80 to 100 people who seek their help weekly are Eastern European or Polish migrants. Migrants who find themselves in need of homeless services often have been unable to secure their intended job in the UK, or come with expectations of employment with linked accommodation.

While the majority of Polish migrants are skilled workers who only require support for a short time before securing employment and accommodation, the large numbers seeking homelessness support reignites the wider debate over migrants' rights to access public funds. John Downie, Streetwork chief executive comments that "the council never imagined the 50 per cent footfall and won't be held responsible for omissions on the numbers of homeless migrants - it's a UK policy issue."

Nationally, a lack of consistency in policy and guidance on migrant workers' entitlement to homelessness services has meant that different councils and agencies operating in local authorities have taken varied judgments as to provisions of homeless services. While the local council in Edinburgh claim that a renewed strategy has been responsible for a reduction in numbers of Eastern Europeans seeking formal homelessness support, homelessness organizations are calling for additional services from local authorities to help the most vulnerable migrants.

Downie explains: "We can't use the UK service to help more vulnerable people - some are on death's door and will receive emergency medical services but nothing after that.

"We can do a lot more to help indigenous people who become homeless. The problem has been the sheer volume of migrants through the door and the omission of migrants from UK policy on homelessness. We have limited options for them but the vast majority of Polish people need only signposting."

Streetwork, maintaining that Polish migrants do not come to the UK with raised expectations of public services, are calling for the development of a national infrastructure which prevents social exclusion. Downie compares the approach to homelessness and social inclusion taken in Eastern European systems with the UK: "In Poland and other post-Soviet countries, the state provided everything. In the UK we have hodge-podge of different approaches which become mixed up in the public and political conscience."