2023 has brought with it a renewed sense of optimism and ambition, with the number of Brits making New Year’s resolutions increasing by a third in comparison to 2022. In the heart of the nation’s capital, the streets are saturated with excited tourists and eager shoppers, all pacing energetically under the starry Christmas lights that hang above.
Walking along Oxford Street and Regent Street, it’s almost impossible to ignore the irony of rough sleepers lining the pavements of Europe’s two busiest shopping destinations. Amid the scene of luxury retail stores, cheerful passers-by, and dazzling lights, are those who are least heard in British society: homeless migrants.
According to government statistics, in 2021, 25% of rough sleepers in the whole of the UK were non-UK nationals and 48% of those in London were from outside the UK. Having relocated to Britain’s capital in search of a better life, these individuals find themselves disappointed.
Miletti, 30, from Bulgaria, has been living in the UK for four years, and has been homeless all four years. He says that he has lived “everywhere in the UK”, listing Brighton and Chichester as other cities he has slept rough in.
His years of sleeping rough are evident in the condition of his feet, blackened and bruised from the biting winter cold and the grimy concrete pavements. “Now it’s cold. Summer it was hot. I’m outside. Rain or snow, I’m outside,” he says hopelessly.
Bogdan, 20, arrived in London from Moldova a year ago and has been sleeping rough ever since. “I came for everything: work, housing, food, everything,” he says, with a look of despair in his eyes.
Understandably, homeless migrants become disillusioned with the picture of London that is painted overseas, a rose-tinted picture of a city that promised them job opportunities, financial security, and socioeconomic mobility. Instead, they face all the dangers that homeless people from the UK face, and more. Crisis, Britain’s largest homelessness charity, wrote in a statement on their website, “On a daily basis, they must contend with suspicion about their motives, being excluded from almost all support services, and a constant threat of removal from the country.”
“Happy New Year!”, shouts Paul, a middle-aged, full-of-life The Big Issue vendor, who says that he has been sleeping rough on and off for twenty-five years. For the past fifteen, he has been trying to make ends meet by selling The Big Issue papers on Oxford Street, a job which he admits is less lucrative than begging.
“I buy the newspapers for £2 each, then I sell them for £4 each, so I’m only making back half the profit. People shout at me “Get a real job!”, but they don’t understand that this is a job. I could still be begging like I used to, but I don’t want to do that anymore. There’s no dignity in that.”
As a British-born rough sleeper, Paul still has the opportunity to make a living, however meagre the profits are. Whereas Miletti, who has limited English proficiency, and admits to being undocumented, is unable to work in the UK.
In the last decade, there has been a political agenda to create a ‘hostile environment’ for illegal migrants. In 2019, under Priti Patel’s leadership, the Home Office relaunched a controversial programme that uses homelessness charities to obtain personal data that could expose undocumented rough sleepers, leading to their deportation.
According to Crisis, such aggressive anti-immigration policies have made migrant rough sleepers distrustful of assistance from charities. For this reason, Miletti requested for his face not to be filmed.
For their New Year’s resolutions, many Brits wish to go to the gym more or reduce their phone screen time. Unlike the average Brit, Bogdan and Miletti have one basic desire: to get off the streets.
“I want only documents, to be a worker, to be a normal person,” says Miletti, when asked about his hopes for the new year. “I would buy a caravan. I would have money for everything.”
Bogdan, at the tender age of 20, says that he has no dreams or New Year’s resolutions, but only wishes to stop sleeping on the streets. When asked about his dream job, he smiles, responding “I don’t know, music, anything.” He says he “would play the darbuka”, a type of drum he used to play in Moldova.
While the rest of British society feel inspired by the new year, this is not the case for homeless migrants. Instead, they dare not dream big, having to confront the grim reality of sleeping on the streets of a country they once saw as their saving grace.
Estelle is our Founder and Editor-in-Chief. She is a student studying MA International Journalism at City, University of London. She is pursuing a career in journalism, writing and activism, and is interested in society, politics, foreign languages and cultures. Her Instagram handle is @estelleuba.