Loss of work throughout the pandemic hit EU citizens particularly hard with the number of people experiencing homelessness who had lost work doubling after lockdown hit in March 2020.
Crisis’s call to prevent EU citizens from falling into homelessness through employment echoes The Big Issue’s Stop Mass Homelessness campaign, which is calling for jobs and training in sustainable industries.
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Jon Sparkes, Crisis chief executive, said it was “unacceptable” that EU citizens were unable to access support in the UK.
He said: “They want to contribute to their communities and given the shortage of workers in some industries right now, enabling people to do so will not only make a difference to our country, but will also make a difference to these individuals and make sure they can leave homelessness behind for good.
“We know what the solutions are to help people out of homelessness for good. If the government committed to providing emergency accommodation and help to find secure, properly paid employment, people from EEA countries wouldn’t be left stuck in homelessness but would instead be able to progress with their lives.”
The joint-research project from Crisis, Heroit-Watt University and think tank IPPR surveyed and interviewed EEA nationals from December 2019 to August 2021.
Researchers found 22,200 people originally from EEA countries are experiencing core homelessness in the UK – ranging from rough sleeping to shelters to unsuitable temporary accommodation and ‘sofa surfing’ – making up almost 10 per cent of the country’s total.
Their results showed a quarter of EEA nationals who had fallen into homelessness were unemployed before the pandemic.
But as Covid-19 took its toll on seasonal and low-income work such as the hospitality sector, job losses increased among EU citizens with just over half of those experiencing homelessness unemployed by winter 2020.
It’s a situation 20-year-old Stefan is familiar with. He moved to Britain from Bulgaria to live with his aunt in London after experiencing homophobic abuse in his home country.
But both he and his aunt lost their jobs working in a bistro because of the pandemic.
“We couldn’t afford to pay the rent. The landlord evicted us and my auntie just told me to pack and we left,” he said. “I was 18 and we were both out on the streets. I kept my bedclothes, but I had to throw away the rest of my belongings.
“We didn’t know there was anywhere we could go for help. We didn’t realise we were entitled to anything. There was nobody to help us.
“We slept rough in Battersea Park. We were scared someone might kill us. We had to stay there for a very long time – we were very dirty and couldn’t have a shower and felt very bad. I spent Christmas on the streets. I couldn’t stand it anymore.
“The worst parts were when we were hungry and didn’t have the money to buy food and when it got very cold.
“I was told about Crisis. They helped me a lot. The temperature was below zero and they helped to get me into a B&B. Now I’m working I hope I can find a permanent place to live.”
Now Stefan has a place in a hostel and a job at Pret A Manger and is optimistic about his future.
“I didn’t know when I was on the street that I could get help in this country. I didn’t think people like me could be supported,” Stefan added
“I am in a hostel now and I am grateful to have a place to eat and to have a shower. But I feel safe in England because in Bulgaria gay people are not accepted. I am feeling much safer and happier in this country.”
Almost half of EU citizens with recent experience of homelessness also reported that they had no income with 87 per cent living below the standard poverty line.
And for those in work, Crisis reported a pattern of insecure and exploitative work – over a quarter told the charity they had to put up with unacceptable employment conditions such as working without a contract and having an abusive employer.
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However, gaining support to escape homelessness proved difficult with rules limiting access and entitlement to housing and welfare support and language barriers also standing in the way.
“Many of the people we interviewed had faced poor conditions at work and at home – from low wages and excessive hours to exploitative employers and landlords,” Often, they had lost their job, in some cases as a result of the pandemic,” said Marley Morris, associate director for migration, trade and communities at IPPR.
“Yet when they looked for help, some faced difficulties qualifying for welfare, while others were simply unaware of their rights and entitlements. This left many without an adequate safety net.”
A spokesperson for The 3million, a campaign group representing EU nationals living in the UK, told The Big Issue: “No-one should be homeless, no matter where they’re from.
“But we, EU citizens in the UK, are disproportionately affected by homelessness – almost three times as likely – due to barriers to accessing support. This is why we fully back Crisis’ call for a specialist employment and housing package for EU citizens who face barriers to accessing social support they are eligible for.”
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