CRI hosted a conference in partnership with Thames Reach and the Department for Communities and Local Government in London on 16th April 2012, entitled "Reconnections: Homelessness and EU Nationals". The conference was aimed at highlighting the issues around rough sleepers from European Union countries who are homeless in the UK, with a particular focus on people who come from the new European Union (EU) member states in Central and Eastern Europe.
Delegates included representatives from more than fifty local authorities as well as police forces, charities, housing associations and several embassies from EU countries, primarily in Central and Eastern Europe.
There has been significant growth in the number of immigrants from new EU countries sleeping rough in the UK in recent years. In London, it is estimated that more than half of rough sleepers are foreign nationals, and that a quarter are Eastern Europeans. The conference focused on this issue and the services that exist to tackle the problem.
CRI runs a service called Reconnections, which works in and around Leeds with people from Eastern Europe who come to the UK for a variety of reasons, some in search of work and some as victims of people trafficking, and end up homeless or sleeping rough. The service provides practical and financial support to help people return to their home countries, or refers them on to alternative services if they wish to stay in the UK. Should they wish to come back to the UK at a later date, the service advises individuals on how they can increase their chances of finding a job and a home. CRI provides some elements of the service within street outreach projects across the country including Brighton, Cambridge and Bournemouth.
Delegates had the opportunity to interact with a diverse panel of experts from organisations including the Department for Communities and Local Government, the UK Border Agency, Leeds City Council and Brent Council, the London Fire Brigade, and Staffordshire Fire Services.
From a number of talks, workshops and a Q&A session, the overriding message was that no single agency can solve this problem on its own. The team of experts agreed that partnership working between the police, fire service, local authorities and the voluntary sector has played a crucial role in improving community safety, reducing crime, antisocial behaviour and rough sleeping and in saving significant sums of public money, whilst helping individuals escape from abusive and unhealthy lifestyles.
A spokesperson from the Department for Communities and Local Government, said:"Local authorities working with CRI are achieving positive outcomes in reconnecting people to their home countries and reducing the number of vulnerable people sleeping on the streets. DCLG is keen to see authorities where non-UK rough sleeping is a problem developing similar schemes, using the recently announced £20m allocation to tackle single homelessness and rough sleeping, especially schemes operating across borough boundaries."
Rob McCartney, Head of Housing Support at Leeds City Council, who commissions the Reconnections service, said: "The council works hand in hand with CRI and this strong relationship has enabled both partners to harness amazing results. Without the Reconnections service, rough sleepers would have remained living in dreadful and life-threatening conditions in the streets of Leeds."
Emma Adair, Homelessness Services Development Manager for CRI said: "Since April 2011, our Reconnections service has lifted 300 people off the streets and reconnected them with eighteen countries. Partnership working is essential in allowing us to identify and assist so many rough sleepers, and this conference was a great opportunity for more people to find out about replicating the service across the country."