The charity Streetwork, which runs the centre serving hot food, giving advice and, during the summer, providing a night shelter, says that about half of the 80 to 100 people who come through its doors each week are migrants.

Most only need help for a short period while between jobs and quickly move on to new employment and private accommodation. However, homelessness organisations fear that those who do find themselves on the street are often not getting the help they need.

Eastern Europeans account for a very small proportion of those who go to councils formally seeking homelessness support. In the capital, a popular destination for migrant workers, people from the so-called A8 countries that joined the EU in 2004 (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia) accounted for 206 out of 4882 people presenting as homeless – 4.2% – in 2008/09, a small rise on the previous year. However, figures

for the last six months show a decrease, something the council attributes to its renewed strategy.

In Glasgow, 1.16% of those presenting as homeless in 2008/09 (118 people) came from A8 countries, up from 0.91% the previous year. The Shieling, run by Glasgow City Mission, which provides hot food, clothing and support to homeless people, reports that about 7% of those coming through the door are eastern European.

Streetwork says that the circumstances of homeless migrant workers vary, but they may have had a job that came with tied accommodation, such as in a hotel, only to find themselves on the street when the job ended. They may have come to the UK having been promised a job only to find that no such job exists; or have had their passports stolen.

Those who come to Streetwork typically find out about it through word of mouth or Polish websites. They often secure new jobs and accommodation within a few weeks of arriving.

John Downie, chief executive of Streetwork, said: “For the majority of Polish people, all they need is a bit of signposting and assistance.

“With the majority of the indigenous people who seek our help, there are other issues involved, such as drugs and alcohol, mental health, debt and crime-related problems.

“For the indigenous population, we have a whole series of options, but for the eastern European contingent, there’s very, very little. We need to be there as a first point of contact, to give them help, but we also need to be able to offer a meaningful next step.”

Confusion surrounds the Scottish Government’s guidance on homelessness in relation to eastern European migrant workers, with different councils and homelessness agencies coming to different conclusions about who is entitled to homelessness assistance and who is not.

The Scottish Council for Single Homeless has particular concerns about those who have worked in the UK for more than three months but less than 12 months, who they fear may be falling through gaps in homelessness provision.

Daniel Coote, of the Scottish Council for Single Homeless, said: “There is a lack of clarity in this area.” The Citizens Advice Bureau is also seeking clarification from the government on the issue.

A spokesman for Cosla said local government was committed to ensuring that migrant workers were welcomed into Scotland’s communities.

He said: “However, the homelessness assistance issue comes under the wider issue of lack of clarity around migrants’ rights to access public funds, which is a growing concern for Scottish local authorities.”

He added it was a “complex area of work” that was “complicated in Scotland when devolved and reserved legislation conflict.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “It is important that local authorities look carefully at each individual’s circumstances before deciding whether they can help and if so, what is the most appropriate help to provide.”

Those who come through the door of Streetwork’s Crisis Centre fall into three groups, the biggest of which is skilled workers who have been doing menial jobs because of poor English language skills.

There are also large numbers of well-prepared, educated workers with good English who briefly need help between jobs. According to Downie, a small third group is made up of people who have “transplanted their problems from their country of origin,” such as mental health problems or substance abuse.

Streetwork and the Shieling offer English classes, which they report are enthusiastically taken up by Polish visitors.


‘When I came here, I had some money but no job’

Lukas is a bright, articulate 25-year-old from south-east Poland with good English. He has been coming to the Streetwork Crisis Service in Edinburgh since arriving in the city in late July. Here, he has been able to get a hot meal, meet others in a similar situation and, if necessary, stay overnight. He also has the support of workers who can help him plan how to get back into work and find accommodation.

In Poland, Lukas was a skilled technician, making carbon parts for aeroplanes, but he left three years ago because in western Europe he could make better money from unskilled work than he could as a skilled worker at home. The UK is his seventh country, after Italy, Belgium, France, Spain, Sweden and the United States. When The Herald first caught up with Lukas, in September, he was intending to start work imminently, doing two jobs as a barman and cleaner.

“When I came here, I couldn’t find a job like at home because you don’t have factories for planes here. So I work as kitchen porter, bar staff, cleaner. I worked in factories as a machine operator. I get £200 per week here. Do you know how much I got paid in Poland? £150, so now you know why I left the country.

“When I came here, I had some money but there was no job. But I met someone who took me to Streetwork. I have a job, but now I am waiting for payment.”

When we catch up with Lukas a month later, he is still a regular visitor to the crisis centre. He tells us that he has found a “good job” now with a removals firm, has found a room and is planning to move in as soon as he can.