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Homelessness agencies accused of being complicit in coercive deportations
Paul Kershaw, Unite union housing workers' branch
Homelessness agencies, including St Mungos, are identified as complicit in immigration raids and a process that results in some of London's most vulnerable people "disappearing into a nightmare of indefinite detention and deportation", the Corporate Watch website reports.
Members of Unite the Union who work on the front line of homelessness believe that outreach services provide essential support for rough sleepers.
It is crucially important that a relationship of trust between outreach workers and clients is maintained. Outreach workers must not be converted into immigration enforcement workers.
Through Unite, workers have expressed concern that in recent years homelessness agencies have become increasingly compliant agencies of government policy.
They have sometimes failed to speak out on behalf of homeless people and in opposition to policies which are driving the rise in rough sleeping and other forms of homelessness.
Not only is the funding of services for rough sleepers inadequate but the method of funding can serve to undermine responsive high quality work by introducing perverse incentives and financial pressure. Previous mayor of London Boris Johnson introduced 'payment by results' as a system of funding services for rough sleepers.
In 2012 a worker posed the question "... let me be clear, me and my team are regularly threatened, abused and assaulted by disturbed and desperate clients. How do you think they will respond when they believe we are on commission?" We think that the current London Mayor, Sadiq Kahn, should end this grotesque ideological gimmick.
Last year St Mungo's stated its position: "The starting point for our work is the belief that sleeping on the streets is dangerous and harmful to people's health, regardless of where you are from. People can have complex situations and we would always work with each person with dignity and respect to help them move away from the street for good...
"We can't and don't deport or detain anyone. We do not share information about people to the Home Office, except when an individual has given their consent, or in situations where people are at risk. We think leaving a vulnerable person to die on the streets is unacceptable. The average age of death of someone who's been homeless is 47, for women, 43."
Unite absolutely agrees that life on the streets is harmful and we should do all we can to help individuals find routes out of rough sleeping. But it is vital to this work that homelessness agencies do not undermine outreach work through any blurring of the line between their staff and enforcement agencies or through breaches of confidentiality.
Last year, the Home Office toughened the rules so that European rough sleepers can be arrested for deportation if found sleeping rough on just one night.
Rough sleeping is rising because of the impact of brutal austerity policies and it is quite clear that further benefit changes threaten further rises.
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