Summer Edition 2023

Challenging prejudice against Roma people

We believe that nobody should be left to face the streets alone – no matter where they’re from – and our Roma Rough Sleeping Service aims to tackle the unique issues that Roma face. Manager, Nico shares their achievements so far:

“I joined St Mungo’s as an Outreach Worker in 2020. My colleagues were finding it hard to engage with Roma people who were rough sleeping, because they didn’t have the cultural understanding or speak the language. Roma tend to stick together in groups and that can make them difficult for outreach workers to approach too.

“Having previously worked with Roma across Europe, and being Roma myself, the skills and experience I was able to share really helped us to break through to this community.

“Then, in December 2020, we received our first funding to pilot the Roma Rough Sleeping Service. For that year it was just me and one other colleague, so we were very busy.

“Since then, we have become a permanent service, growing to employ three mediators, one coordinator and a manager.

“We support clients to access immigration advice – making sure they are referred to the right services, and going with them to appointments so they feel supported. We can also translate for them if necessary."

“Another big area of our work is health – getting clients registered with a GP and access to health services. We also help people with benefits, employment and housing, and so far we’ve supported 20 people into accommodation, which is a huge achievement.

“One of our strongest skills is knowing how to navigate between the two systems – the British system of law and services and everything, and the Roma cultural system. That’s why my colleagues are called mediators, because they are in between the two. It’s the first time we have Roma mediators hired in the UK, so St Mungo’s is really breaking through.

A shocking 87% of Roma rough sleepers have struggled to access homelessness services.

“Another skill we have in this team is that we are advocates for our clients. We can see where the system doesn’t work, and the barriers that are created because of stereotypes and discrimination, and take action."

“The team have trained hundreds of practitioners across London on Roma history and culture, and how to work with Roma rough sleepers.

“I’m very proud of my team because in a very short time, we have succeeded to really touch the lives of our people. Seeing people I met in 2020, who never dreamed to have a house here and are now inside accommodation, is the highest reward we can get in our work.

“And our work is being recognised by others too. Last year, we were thrilled to receive a letter from the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, commending our service.”

“Your work has had a real impact on improving engagement and trust between Roma people sleeping rough and mainstream services.”

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London

© Greater London Authority

Frequently asked questions

Who are Roma?

There are an estimated 10-12 million Roma currently living in Europe. Historians believe that Roma first arrived here from North West India sometime around the 12th century. Roma have a common language, Rromanës, which has different dialects.

How are they affected by homelessness?

Roma have faced a long history of prejudice and organised persecution since arriving in Europe. In some countries, Roma were enslaved until the 19th century. They were targeted by the Nazis during the holocaust, and between the 1970’s and 1990’s, the Czech Republic and Slovakia sterilized Romani women against their will.

Unfortunately, prejudice is still widespread and today, and 80% of Roma in Europe live below the risk of poverty threshold. This, alongside culture and language barriers, has created a sense of distrust amongst Roma communities, making it harder for them to access mainstream support like housing services.

What's the difference between Roma and Romanian?

Roma does not mean Romanian – it is a coincidence that the two words are similar. But Romania has one of the highest populations of Roma in the world, which is why this is a common misconception.

What’s the difference between Roma, gypsies and travellers?

Roma are often wrongly called “gypsies”. This name came about because people assumed they were Egyptian, and shortened this to “gypsy”.

Roma shouldn’t be called “travellers” either. Irish and Scottish Travellers have their own unique identity and culture which is very different to Roma. And whilst Roma travelled from place to place in the past, most of the population is now settled in one place.

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