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23 June 2016

What the EU referendum looks like when you have nothing else to lose

Homeless Brits are also split on the question of the EU referendum. 

By morgan meaker

After three years of homelessness, George – not his real name – has noticed how politics can appeal to people like him to feel in competition with European migrants for housing. 

But he doesn’t buy it. He wants the UK to remain in the EU. Currently living in temporary accommodation, George doesn’t blame his circumstances on Brussels – in fact he’s worried that if the Leave Campaign win tomorrow, prices for everyday necessities could rise with inflation. 

“There’s no rational or logical argument for leaving something that enhances our way of life,” he says. He sees homelessness in the UK as our Government’s failure, not the failure of the EU. 

Between 2014 and 2015, over 160,000 people applied for homeless assistance in England, Wales and Scotland. And with the polls predicting a close race, they – like many minority groups – have the potential to swing the result. 

People who are homeless can vote. They can apply to have their poll card sent to a day centre, a hostel or a friend’s house. Although in theory voting is possible, in reality, it can be difficult – particularly for people who are moving around a lot. 

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While George plans to vote, Munchie does not. Sitting on the pavement that wraps around London’s Old Street roundabout, he says living in and out of different hostels means it’s difficult to register. 

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That doesn’t mean he has no opinion – he’s leaning towards the Leave Campaign because he worries about immigration. He believes the UK needs migrants to fill certain jobs but hints they should show more respect for British culture. 

But Munchie doesn’t think a win for either side would have an affect on people like him, who are homeless. “Whoever’s in power, it’s always the same,” he says. 

Matt Downie, director of policy at homelessness charity Crisis, says the UK does not take full advantage of EU funds to help homeless people. 

The €3.8 billion Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) gives member states access to funds to help people escape poverty. “The Germans take €80million from this fund to help homeless people,” says Downie. “But the UK only takes the minimum amount.” 

Homelessness campaigners, including Crisis and the Green Party’s Sian Berry, have called on the government to make more of these funds. But Downie believes the government is reluctant to see the EU as a solution to this country’s social problems. 

Considering the effect and in or out vote would have the country’s homeless, he says: “If we left, we wouldn’t have access to those funds anymore. But if we stay, we need to make more of our membership.”

Like Munchie, Grahame – who sells the Big Issue Magazine outside Cannon Street Station – doesn’t think the vote will have much impact on him.

Despite feeling fairly detached from tomorrow’s outcome, he’s watched bemused as Brexit chaos unravels around him. Yesterday he saw people on Brick Lane – in East London – protesting the presence of a Leave Campaign car; they blocked the road so it couldn’t get past. 

“Crazy isn’t the word for it,” he says. “It’s a load of crap.”