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Spotlight on Porchlight

29th November 2021 | Homelessness and modern slavery

Porchlight is Kent's largest charity for homeless and vulnerable people.

The Clewer Initiative

Porchlight's, outreach manager, Paul Withrington, shares how training has radically improved their ability to identify victims

Paul award cropped

Paul, an outreach manager and modern slavery champion for Porchlight, was recently recognised at the Anti-Slavery Day Awards, organised by the Human Trafficking Foundation, for his work in reducing vulnerabilities.

Tell us more about Porchlight

Porchlight is Kent’s largest homelessness and mental health charity. We work with people who are homeless, at risk of becoming homeless, or need help to live safely and independently in the community. We work with more than 9,000 individuals and families every year.

What is your role at Porchlight?

Porchlight has outreach teams which support people who are sleeping on the streets – I manage the team in West Kent. I’m also Porchlight’s modern slavery champion, meaning I provide advice and training to staff members about supporting victims of slavery. Before this, I worked in law enforcement.

When did you first become aware of the link between homelessness and modern slavery?

Because of my law enforcement background, I was already aware of the link between homelessness and modern slavery. It’s everywhere - people are being recruited to work in car washes, construction, agriculture, takeaways, even domestic servitude. One woman I worked with was being paid £8 a day to work for a local GP and their family as a domestic slave.

The people we work with are very vulnerable and are often targeted, groomed or enticed with drink and drugs, and then taken. They often end up being exploited for labour, sexual abuse or criminal activity.

How has training made a difference?

Porchlight has created modern slavery training for all frontline staff – whether they’re part of our homelessness, mental health or LGBT+ services. It has enabled Porchlight to identify and help more slavery victims in Kent than ever before. We hope this will continue as more staff are trained.

We’ve also participated in Project TILI – a scheme to understand and break the links between female victims of moderns slavery and homelessness. Porchlight and other homelessness organisations from across the country shared their insights. Amazingly, we learned that Gravesend, an area in which Porchlight works, has the highest number of cases outside London. This isn’t necessarily because Gravesend is one of the worst areas for modern slavery – it’s because our staff can spot the signs and are identifying a higher number of victims.

What is the focus of the training?

Porchlight is based in Kent, and the training contains lots of real-life examples of modern slavery that has happened there. It shows staff that modern slavery is happening in Kent right now and helps them dispel any thoughts that ‘this couldn’t happen here’. We work through real-life scenarios, allowing staff to get in the mindset of what to do if they encounter potential slavery situations.

It’s about giving staff the knowledge and confidence to pick up the subtle indicators of slavery, what questions to ask and how to report suspicions. This is important because clients rarely self-identify as victims.

You have a high success rate of walking victims through the National Referral Mechanism. How have you achieved this?

We take our advocacy role very seriously. Many people do not realise they are victims and often have other vulnerabilities in addition to being homeless - mental health, addiction, language barriers, no access to public funds and even experiencing Stockholm syndrome.

All of these factors can make it very challenging for someone to navigate the National Referral Mechanism. That’s where Porchlight’s staff come in – they work with victims and other organisations to ensure people can access this support.

If you could send one message to friends working in the homeless sector, what would you say?

Things are not always as they seem - if something doesn’t sit right with you, explore it with the person you’re supporting. Modern slavery is a national problem, so don’t think it’s not happening where you are. It happens in plain sight – what we’re achieving at Porchlight is proof of this.

The more knowledge that professionals have about modern slavery, the more we can do to help victims. You could be part of that!

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