It can be very difficult for EEA nationals who become homeless to consider a return. People will have had a range of motivating factors for leaving their home and coming to the UK and may have complex needs which affect their ability or willingness to engage with services to discuss a return. Although each person’s journey needs to be assessed individually, here are some tips on overcoming some of the common barriers that we see in supporting EEA nationals to consider a return:
Feelings of shame about their circumstance if people perceive they have failed to live up to the goals and expectations they set themselves when they arrived in the UK. People may feel anxious about returning without money and status. EEA migrants who have developed health problems or other support needs may feel anxiety about becoming a burden on their family. This needs sensitive handling, taking time to acknowledge feelings of disappointment, alongside weighing this up with the likelihood of future harm if they should remain on the streets. When contacting family, ensure you have discussed how much your client feels comfortable disclosing; for example, they may not want their family to know they have been rough sleeping.
People may feel that there is little to return to back home, if they move to the UK due to being unemployed and/or homeless and estranged from their family in their home country. In this situation, your role is to support people to understand their rights in the local area to support and entitlements in order to be able to make an informed choice. This could involve contacting the local council, making links with services and possibly helping people to reconnect with family. Explore if a person would consider a move back to their country of origin, but not their specific local area.
People may believe that there are no services for homeless people in their home area or may have been misinformed by others about availability of services. They may not know about or have previously been unable to access support or treatment (for example for alcohol or drug misuse). Services may have changed or developed in the time since they have been away, so it is important to give them up-to-date information and enable them to make contact with services by phone if possible to discuss treatment options as well as give examples of successful case studies where people in their situation have succeeded. Work has been undertaken to develop links with services across a range of EEA countries.
Routes Home for example has a partnership with MONAR (www.monar.org) in Poland who provide accommodation, detox and rehabilitation treatment service.
People may be avoiding criminal justice sanctions in their home country if their motivation for leaving was unspent sentences or unpaid fines. Work with consulates and/or local criminal justice agencies to support EEA nationals to gain a thorough understanding of the consequences of any return, for example likely length of any sentence. This will enable them to make an informed decision about return and to weigh this up with the harmful consequences of remaining on the streets.
People may have completely lost connection with their home country, including family members. In these cases, use the assessment process to understand a person’s full narrative, including any positive memories they have of their home country. Engage volunteers, workers or peers who originate from that country to describe the current circumstances in that country, highlighting any positives. Support people to make contact with family members if possible and in some cases, consider organising for people to visit London for a meeting.
Some European countries impose fines and prison sentences for people who do not meet child maintenance payments. Avoiding these sanctions can be a significant barrier for return. It is increasingly possible to access legal advice within EEA countries to enable people to negotiate a payment plan or to file for bankruptcy. The avoidance of sanctions may well be a practical barrier but could also be a psychological barrier; motivational interviewing skills and asking questions to encourage an individual to consider the best and worst-case scenarios can be helpful. Practice experience has shown that on arrival people may only face a relatively short prison sentence and these matters can be resolved, in ways that are less problematic than assumed.
There may be barriers to return that are outside of someone’s control, such as delays in acquiring identification, waiting lists for services and issues establishing a local connection. It is important to stay focused and ensure a level of confidence and proactive challenge when supporting people to access their rights and entitlements.
There may be particular issues for EEA women. Whilst they form a minority of the overall population of those who sleep rough, there needs to be careful consideration of their needs in terms of likelihood they have experienced domestic violence, exploitation or trafficking and there could be issues of shame if they have lost contact with children. Ensure that these needs are thoroughly assessed and work with appropriate women’s organisations in the UK and in home countries.
Labour exploitation or forced labour may also be a barrier for many reasons. The following link details some common reasons why a victim of forced labour may not report this to authorities http://www.labourexploitation.org/sites/default/files/publications/Understanding%20victim%20perspectives.pdf
Understanding that these hopes and fears exist for EEA nationals is the starting point for effective engagement.