A shocking new report on modern slavery has found traffickers are purposefully targeting homeless people for exploitation.
It reveals a disturbing pattern of criminal gangs who set out to recruit homeless people and use them as forced labour.
Tactics used by traffickers include registering to volunteer with homeless charities to gain the trust of people using soup kitchens and drop ins who they then “trick into slavery through false stories of success and money”.
English victims were the most common among the homeless people recruited into exploitation, according to the information, which was gathered from calls made to the Modern Slavery Helpline – set up by Bristol-based charity Unseen two-and-a-half years ago.
Avon and Somerset force area was in the top three regions with the highest numbers of potential victims exploited. In total, 26 victims were identified compared with 84 in Greater London and 23 in Sussex.
Common locations for recruitment include homeless shelters, and public spaces such as the street and in parks.
While workplaces, the internet – including through social media -, foster homes and a place of worship were also recorded as locations of recruitment.
The 14 percent of victims who were homeless prior to exploitation were lured into forced labour through job advertisements or the offer of a job.
A number were also deceived with false promises or by people posing as a benefactor.
They were mostly men who were recruited for forced labour in industries including construction, car washes and hospitality.
The report also sets out how homeless people are being forced to commit crimes for their exploiters – most commonly forced begging.
High numbers of people who escape modern slavery often find themselves homeless, with 234 people indicated to be homeless after exploitation.
A significant number of those found to have become homeless after exploitation had escaped sexual exploitation and domestic servitude.
Since the helpline’s launch in October 2016, more than 350 potential victims indicated by the Helpline were homeless either before, during or after they escaped from exploitation.
These individuals were involved in 276 cases of modern slavery (some cases involve more than one victim), comprising seven per cent of all modern slavery cases reported.
Unseen say this emphasises the need for local authorities, homeless charities and other frontline services to be aware of the risks, the signs of slavery, and the Modern Slavery Helpline as a resource for advice and expertise.
There is now a campaign to raise awareness among rough sleepers, homelessness charities and members of the public, to better understand the signs, risk factors and potential harm to homeless and roofless people as regards modern slavery.
Rachel Harper, manager of the Modern Slavery Helpline, described how the helpline continued to get calls from people who have escaped situations of exploitation and are still in need because they are without a home and vulnerable to re-exploitation.
Gangs are known to deliberately target individuals with vulnerabilities such as poverty, substance dependency and language barriers as part of their recruitment tactics.
And the helpline’s data can be used to better inform prevention efforts and responses to exploitation.
She said: “This report demonstrates why awareness and collaboration with homeless charities, members of the public and housing agencies is crucial. Anyone can see and report signs of present or past exploitation, and the Modern Slavery Helpline stands as a free, confidential service ready to help 24/7.”
Modern Slavery Helpline
The Modern Slavery Helpline and Resource Centre is a 24/7 helpline, open every day of the year. The Helpline is free to call, independent and confidential; callers need not provide their name or details if they prefer not to do so. On calls, Helpline Advisors ask strategic questions to gather information to make a risk assessment and form a case response, which may include emotional support, signposting, safety planning, or sending a referral to police, local authorities, or other NGOs.
The Helpline is operated by Unseen, an award-winning UK-wide national charity working towards a world without slavery. Unseen also runs safe houses for survivors of modern slavery, and collaborates across sectors to help prevent and protect against exploitation.
Call the helpline on: 08000 121 700