Thames Reach has warned that impoverished rough sleepers from Central and Eastern Europe living on London’s streets have been found eating rats and drinking lethal alcoholic hand wash stolen from hospitals.
Thames Reach Chief Executive Jeremy Swain expressed his concern at the appalling conditions faced by destitute rough sleepers from new European Union states.
“There have been at least four reported deaths from people drinking this lethal alcoholic handwash and I fear there may be many more that we’ve yet to be made aware of.
“We have also come across homeless Poles in north London barbecuing rats. We have to explain to them that unlike the rats back home, in London they may be full of poison.”
Megan Stewart runs Thames Reach London Reconnection team which helps Central and Eastern Europeans return home and back to the safety of family or services providing support.
She visited a north London rough sleeping site on three occasions and found people eating cooked rats, which had either been cooked on a grill over an old oil drum or stewed in a pot.
“It was the worst thing I had seen in three decades of working with the homeless,” said Megan.
Thames Reach runs a series of projects helping Central and Eastern Europeans living in destitution and sleeping rough on the streets of London.
The charity has twenty five years of experience of working with rough sleepers in the capital but since European Union enlargement earlier this decade, has encountered a steadily growing number of homeless people from Central and Eastern Europe – the latest figures indicate that 26 per cent of London’s homeless originate from these countries.
Unlike UK citizens, they are unable to claim benefits unless they have been working and paying national insurance contributions for at least a year. This means that our outreach teams are unable to house them in London’s hostels – the first port of call for many rough sleepers – as they can not claim housing benefit.
Thames Reach’s London Reconnection Team was founded in early 2009 to help these people living on the streets in desperate circumstances who didn’t have the welfare state safety net available for UK citizens.
This team has now helped over 400 Central and Eastern Europeans to return home back to their families and into the services which can help them get their lives back on track. Many of the people living on the streets have serious alcohol problems and have taken to drinking the strong cheap and dangerous white ciders such as White Ace. Some individuals have also taken to drinking alcoholic hand wash stolen from hospitals with tragic consequences – Thames Reach staff are aware of at least four deaths. We work closely with services such as Barka UK and alcohol rehabilitation schemes in Central and Eastern Europe to help people return home safely and with dignity.
Thames Reach is also trying to help Central and Eastern Europeans find work and private accommodation so they can make a success of their lives in the UK.
However, many are very ill due to their desperate living conditions and alcohol dependency, and also have poor English language skills. The result is that in a time when jobs are difficult to come by – one hospital cleaning job in London recently attracted 70 applicants – many will find it impossible to get work.
Recently the UK Borders Agency ran a pilot scheme in partnership with homelessness agencies in which they targeted European Union nationals sleeping rough on UK streets, and asked them to prove they were looking for work and not breaching the treaty allowing them to stay in the country.
This has encouraged many rough sleepers who were previously not engaging with our London Reconnection Team to seek help from them rather than risk being returned home involuntarily and we welcome this initiative.
We also know that the Reconnection Team actually saves the taxpayer money. A conservative estimate indicates that we have saved at least £250,000 as the homeless end up in A&E five times more often than a regular citizen and are 15 times more likely to be a victim of violence.
In summary, our main aim is to prevent the unnecessary deaths of people sleeping rough on the streets of London.
We will help people find work if they have the skills.
We will help people return home with dignity and ensure support is in place.
We do not believe however it is an option for Central and Eastern Europeans to remain on the streets of London for years, living in destitution and relying on handouts.