East Europeans join London's homeless

The number of penniless immigrants in the UK from countries of the former Soviet Union has rocketed since the expansion of the EU in 2004. Many end up sleeping rough because of spiraling rents in London.

Their main concern is simply finding something to eat and somewhere to sleep for the night.

According to the latest government figures, one in six homeless people in central London is from Eastern Europe. Many are from the countries of the former USSR.

Sister Ellen Flynn, Director of the Passage centre for the homeless and vulnerable, says these people suffer particular hardship.

“At the moment I can only speak for Westminster – that’s the local authority we work in. there are something like 100 people sleeping rough. On top of that there are an average of about 25 – 30 who are directly from Eastern Europe,” Sister Ellen said.

She says the second group have no recourse to public money, but have the right to work in Britain because they are citizens of the EU.

The irony is that they came to London searching for a better life.

One 43-year-old Lithuanian man said he was prepared to put up with the difficulties.

“I’ve lived in the street for three months and I don’t like it here but I don’t want to go back. What will I find back in Lithuania? There are only old people and children left. Everyone else is gone to try and earn some money,” he said.

Tadeush from Latvia hasn’t phoned home for almost a year. He’s too ashamed of his current life and considers himself lucky to be living in a squat:

“I wanted a better life. And I wanted to see London, do you understand? Now I’ve seen it – but am left in the street. What good is it to me now? There is nothing good here, nothing”.

The authorities see cutting down the number of people entering Britain from countries that have just joined the EU, as a way to curb immigration.

The official Home Office website says that Britain is ending low-skilled immigration from outside Europe to ensure that migration continues to benefit the British economy.

In the meantime – the problem remains. Each year volunteers distribute food and set up temporary shelters for homeless people over Christmas. But they close on 30 December. And while the world is going to be celebrating the New Year – the homeless will find themselves sleeping in the streets again.