Reforming homelessness policies for migrants: 8 lessons from a working group of European cities

Published 14 June 2016 / By COMPAS Communications

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Senior officials from five European cities have been working together as part of the Global Exchange on Migration and Diversity's Action for Inclusion in Europe project, aiming to develop high-level strategic thinking on migrant homelessness, learn from research evidence and the experiences of other cities, and deliver improvements in services. Each city has developed an implemented an action plan over a period of ten months, in order to address a range of problems in the area of migrant homelessness and destitution. We documented the group’s achievements and challenges, and have identified 8 lessons that may help to facilitate change in other cities across Europe experiencing similar problems:

  1. Joining up with different policy agendas

Migrant homelessness can be a sensitive, controversial topic, and it can fall between the gaps of different areas of responsibility, for instance, migration, health, homelessness/housing and social services. It cannot, however, be isolated from the broader policy and financial challenges of cities. In order to raise migrant homelessness on the agendas of existing services, departments or agencies, it has proven useful to make new allies and create partnerships across overlapping agendas, bringing new actors on board.

  1. Finding durable, rather than emergency responses

Restrictive national legal frameworks often mean that cities are unable to apply traditional solutions (such as welfare and employment support) to resolve homelessness amongst migrants. Hence, there is an overreliance on emergency responses. In order to shift towards more durable solutions, there is a need to build understanding within cities that migration can be long-term and that long-term solutions can be required.

  1. Driving change with the assistance of a task group

Establishing a task group to oversee reforms can help to generate and maintain interest and momentum, providing a structured mechanism for implementing actions, monitoring progress and creating accountability and buy-in.

  1. Articulating a convincing and authoritative narrative

Migrant homelessness can be a sensitive and controversial issue, however, a convincing narrative can centre around a problem-solving approach that prioritises keeping people from harm, cost-saving, and child and adult safeguarding, for instance. Developing a narrative based on evidence of what works can also help to build support for new interventions. Additionally, providing joint solutions for both migrants and more settled residents, may help to achieve broad support and allay fears that solutions are exclusive or preferential.

  1. Addressing the underlying causes of homelessness through the provision of legal advice

Cuts to central government-funded legal aid are taking place across European countries, but cities are playing an increasing role in commissioning legal advice for residents, including migrants, because it helps to resolve the underlying causes of homelessness, for example by facilitating regularisation.

  1. Partnership working with NGOs

NGOs play a key role in the development and delivery of services to homeless migrants, and the convergence of NGO and city interests can be a key driver for change at policy level. NGOs are less constrained by restrictive laws and policies, meaning they can step in where cities often cannot. For example, there are certain things cities cannot be seen to be saying or doing, and they can therefore work with NGOs to raise particular issues and provide particular services.

  1. Finding tailored routes into labour markets

Labour market solutions for migrant homelessness are attractive across the political spectrum. They provide a way to end dependency on welfare and help people to lead independent lives. Traditional labour market solutions may however fail to take into account the specific needs of migrants, and there is a need to develop understanding around what works for this group, such as culturally-specific employment support, with co-nationals providing services in native languages.

  1. The power of evidence

Evidence has instrumental power, telling cities what they need to know and giving them leverage when advocating policy positions. Evidence is important for determining which interventions are successful and which are not, and for demonstrating the need for services and for planning those services. It is also important to frame the evidence to build an argument that is authoritative and also palatable for different interest groups, for instance, framing evidence to support financial arguments or human rights arguments.

The full reports for the Action for Inclusion in Europe project will be published this summer. Please check our project page for updates.