A charity which has handed over details of its homeless clients to the Home Office, as part of Theresa May’s “hostile environment” deportation policy, is one of the agencies being used by Croydon Council in its “campaign” to clear the town centre’s streets of beggars.
Last week, the Labour-run council announced its clampdown, with a cabinet member, Hamida Ali, warning, “If people continue to beg, and refuse to engage, or accept support, the next stage will be to take enforcement steps to stop this offence.”
Among the groups Croydon Council wants the homeless “to engage” with is Croydon Reach, who according to the council’s press release will be providing “shelter and support for the homeless”.
The reality is that that “shelter and support” for some of the borough’s vulnerable homeless could end up being under the roof of a Home Office immigration removal centre.
Croydon Reach is a off-shoot of the Thames Reach charity which last year admitted that they had been turning in homeless people to the Home Office, under Conservative government policy to deport foreign nationals forcibly. It is what May, when she was Home Secretary, called her “hostile environment” for migrants.
Enforcement activity against non-UK rough sleepers was stepped up in 2016, ahead of the EU referendum.
A report last March from Corporate Watch revealed concerns about homelessness charities’ links to immigration enforcement, as under measures plucked from an Orwellian dystopia the government sought information from landlords, schools and the NHS to assist with their strategy.
Joint visits by immigration officials and some charity workers in eight London boroughs in 2016 led to 133 rough sleepers being detained in immigration removal centres.
In one borough, Hammersmith and Fulham, a document disclosed under Freedom of Information Act was entitled “Enforcement policy for EU and non-EU nationals not engaging with the outreach team”.
The document explains a series of interventions one charity’s outreach workers have with non-UK rough sleepers. If the rough sleepers are deemed to have no right to remain in the UK and do not agree to return home voluntarily, the document states that “these individuals’ details will be passed on to the ICE [Home Office immigration, compliance and enforcement] by the outreach team”.
Thames Reach has taken a similar position. Last year, a spokesperson for that charity was quoted as saying, “Thames Reach has no powers to compel rough sleepers to return home but when we believe that individuals are at risk from living on the streets, where people are in extreme destitution, we will work with the Home Office to plan a way for them to return home.”
Thames Reach says that it strives “to ensure that the users of its services find and sustain a decent home, develop supportive relationships and lead fulfilling lives”. The charity’s website doesn’t say anything about how some of its clients might get deported if they share their personal details with the charity’s outreach workers.
Thames Reach says that it has the “highest aspirations, expectations and respect for service users”. And according to the Thames Reach website, Croydon Reach’s “outreach teams work on Croydon’s streets at night, following up referrals of homeless people who are thought to be sleeping rough.”
But Thames Reach is also the homelessness charity which last year stated, “There is no need to beg on the streets in 2017. Hostel rent is covered through Housing Benefit [and] it is an urban myth that if you have no address, you cannot claim benefits.”
The charity, which is primarily funded by the government, makes no mention of the many gatekeeping barriers vulnerable people must cross to secure benefits and a stable hostel place. And as Matt Broomfield wrote in a coruscating critique of homelessness charities’ attitudes, “Most damningly, they do not mention the fact that the foreign nationals who make up over half of London’s rough-sleeping population cannot claim benefits to access the hostel network at all. Rather, Thames Reach and other top charities shop homeless foreigners to the Home Office to be deported.”
As part of Croydon’s new campaign against street beggars, the council and Croydon BID, the grouping of wealthy businesses who appear to find rough sleepers such an inconvenience, are even encouraging the public to donate to… Thames Reach, the government-sponsored snitches.
The nature of Croydon Council’s campaign – one week of offering some sort of support, or else – has all the appearance of the application of social cleansing of the town centre for the benefit of the businesses based there. In austerity Britain, 80 per cent of homeless people experienced no support or advice the last time they were moved on by police or council workers.
“When the government claims that most people begging on the street are refusing better help, what they mean is the help on offer is not adequate,” Broomfield wrote.
“Homeless people need free, state-provided housing and fully funded psychological care. What they get is £538million annual cuts to mental health services and austerity measures driving them into arrears with private landlords and on to the street.”
Civil liberties groups are also outraged at the way some charities, such as Thames Reach, are abusing their position of confidence with the vulnerable to help Theresa May’s Tory agenda.
“Using homeless charities to spy on the homeless is a new low, even for a government bent on bringing border controls into every corner of our lives,” said Martha Spurrier, director of Liberty.
“Turning unaccountable citizens into immigration officers can only lead to racial profiling, discrimination and alienation, raising tensions in already divided communities. If the Home Office genuinely wants to rise to the post-Brexit challenge, it must end this toxic ‘border on every street’ policy.”
While in Croydon, that “border on every street” policy is being applied today, by our Labour council and their friends at Thames Reach.
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