Today I thought I would provide a brief summary of developments over the last few years.
The first wave of A8 nationals (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia) arrived in 2004. Within 8 hours of the borders opening there was a queue from the passage all the way to Victoria Coach station. At the peak of the influx 53 coaches from Warsaw arrived in a single day. As many migrants were from Catholic countries they immediately went to nearby Westminster Cathedral which directed them to The Passage. At that time a potential client did not have to have ‘support needs’ to be eligible for The Passage’s services. Having support needs means having some kind of mental or physical health issue; this is because The Passage aims to work with only the most vulnerable adults. Initially this influx was considered a boon for the careers and training department as they now had a large number of clients with a good chance of finding a job. However it soon became clear that many clients, including some with qualifications as high as Masters degrees, wanted work as soon as possible even if it was unskilled and poorly paid and despite their over qualification for the sort of work they were seeking. This was so that they could start sending money home as quickly as possible. This was compounded by lack of understanding of how job-seeking in the UK economy differs to job-seeking in Poland. Unrealistic expectations on this matter combined with the language barrier and cultural differences resulting in difficult communications. For example if asked to present themselves at the day center between ten and three, many clients would arrive at 2:55 and fail understand why they were not able to be seen. Not enough minimum wage work was available and in 2005 the decision was taken to exclude EEA jobseekers from The Passage’s target client group and introduce the support needs criteria. The ‘building base services’ initiative aimed to discourage organisations such as The Passage from supporting people in continuing to sleep rough. To this end use of the day center was made conditional on assessment and full engagement with The Passage’s other services where appropriate; beforehand this was only strongly encouraged. After these changes some clients turned to the black market to look for work.