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On 15 May 2023, Westminster Homeless Partnership (WHP) hosted an event to launch a new research report on the experiences and impact of Roma people sleeping rough in Westminster. This report was funded through the European End Street Homelessness Campaign’s Innovation Fund. Here, Dominic Williamson (WHP’s Partnership Manager and Facilitator) shares the findings from the report.

The independent report titled Roma Experiencing Rough Sleeping in Westminster and Beyond: Evaluating New Approaches, was written by Maria Dumitru and Dr Solvor Mjøberg Lauritzen of the MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion and Society. It sets out the findings from interviews with Roma people who have experienced rough sleeping in the borough and with the professionals working with them. It also makes some recommendations for action, which the WHP will be considering in the next few months.

Importantly, it also provides some of the context of the communities that people come from, including the poverty that has resulted from centuries of slavery, oppression and genocide. This history is the background that has brought some of the poorest people in Europe on to the streets in some of the richest areas of Britain.

In recent years the number of people who are non-UK citizens sleeping rough in Westminster has risen and now make up the majority of people found on the streets. Among this diverse population, the largest group are from Roma communities in Romania, accounting for around 20 to 25% of those on the streets.

Since 2016 efforts have been made to improve the way that services work with this group and there is now a dedicated Roma Rough Sleeping team, run by UK based homelessness organisation St Mungo’s and funded by the Greater London Authority (GLA), which works in Westminster and other London boroughs. This project employs Roma Mediators who speak Romani and Romanian, and can engage with the community in their own language. There is also a Roma clinic offered at the Great Chapel Street NHS surgery. The report makes clear that these projects have transformed the relationship between services and the Roma population.

At the launch we discussed several important insights from the report:

  • Migration is a major driver of levels of rough sleeping in Westminster
  • Responses by WHP partners are constrained by restrictions on entitlements and employment etc
  • Roma people have experienced a history of discrimination, slavery and genocide and come from some of the poorest and most marginalized communities in Europe
  • Importance of recognising diversity of experience, migration stories, motivations and intersectionality
  • Roma people experience harassment and feel safer in the busy streets of Westminster – they were not attracted here by the offer of homelessness services
  • Health issues, fear and barriers to work and accommodation are concerns within the community
  • The mediators in the Roma Rough Sleeping Team and the Roma clinic have been able to engage and build relationships with Roma people
  • Narratives of “organised begging by criminal gangs” need to be challenged
  • Importance of forming a Westminster response to government plans on anti-social behaviour (ASB)

We also explored the principles that we think should underpin efforts in Westminster to continue to ensure the response to the Roma population remains aligned with WHP’s mission to work together to end rough sleeping. The following principles were discussed:

  • Human rights
  • Focus on enhancing dignity, health and wellbeing
  • Safeguarding of vulnerable people
  • Build engagement and trust in culturally sensitive ways
  • Involvement of people with lived experience
  • Engagement of all stakeholders, including local communities
  • Challenge anti-gypsyism
  • Recognise the rights and responsibilities of all stakeholders
  • Challenge responses that seek to merely displace people
  • Evidence, evaluation and learning

Over the next few months WHP’s strategic group will be considering the recommendations in the report and will use these and the principles above to prioritise an action plan to ensure we keep making progress to reduce rough sleeping among this population.

You can read the full report here.

(An original version of this blog was initially posted on the Westminster Homelessness Partnership website here)

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