A homeless shelter for destitute refugees in Glasgow can no longer support the growing number of homeless EU nationals in the city and has called for urgent action to meet “a clear gap in provision” for vulnerable people.

The Glasgow Night Shelter for Destitute Asylum Seekers warned it has been operating at more than double its capacity and must stop accepting new guests. Some people have been staying there for months, with one man having used the shelter for more than three years now and another two men for over two years.

Phill Jones, co-ordinator for the shelter which opens from 8pm till 8am every night in a city centre church, said he was contacting charities to let them know the shelter could not accept any new referrals.

Earlier this week the shelter – which was set up to help destitute asylum seekers whose Home Office support had stopped – accommodated 36 men, with some sleeping on inflatable mattresses and cushions on the floor. Usually mats and sleeping bags are provided.

Its capacity is supposed to be 15.

In an email to charities about “the regrettable state of affairs”, Jones wrote: “Of the 36 men staying last night over a third were EU nationals. To us, a charity set up to support non-EU migrants such as refused asylum seekers, this represents a homelessness crisis that we as a small charity, not eligible for government funding as we work with men who have no recourse to public funds, cannot really be left on our own to resolve.”

Many people at the shelter are from Poland or from other eastern European countries who are not entitled to housing benefit unless they have been working for six months.

They are joined by a growing number of refugees forced to use the shelter due to delays of weeks or even months in Section 4 emergency support from the Home Office, paid when appealing a negative asylum decision. Others were finding it difficult to access accommodation while waiting for initial asylum claims to be processed.

The shelter does not currently accept women but it is working towards moving to a larger premise where women can be accommodated on a separate floor.

Currently women, as well as many destitute refugee men are often accommodated through Positive Action in Housing’s Room for Refugees project, under which volunteers offer their spare rooms.

If people are on the streets it pushes them to become more vulnerable to exploitation Phill Jones, Glasgow Night Shelter for Destitute Asylum Seekers

Jones said: “Many of them are Polish and when they can’t find work they can’t access benefits. It becomes a trap and it is very difficult to get out of. We are also constantly getting referrals from those[refugees] who can’t get into Home Office accommodation due to delays in support.”

He added that on some evenings the shelter – which cooks a community meal shared by all guests as well as an additional 10-15 destitute asylum seekers who have somewhere to stay but no money – did not have enough food to go around.

It receives donations from a number of supermarkets and waste food charities. Tensions within the shelter had been running high because of the lack of space, with arguments about sleeping spots breaking out.

“It is clear that there is a gap in provision and the council and other third sector organisations need to step in,” Jones said. “If people are on the streets it pushes them to become more vulnerable to exploitation; it’s an issue of health, or rising anti-social behaviour and petty crime.”

Homeless charities and refugee advocates said news that the shelter had reached capacity was worrying but unsurprising.

Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, said that he was aware that a number of EU nationals had been forced to use the winter night shelter, run by the Glasgow City Mission and hosted by the Lodging House Mission in Glasgow’s east end.

That shelter closed on 1 April 2018 leaving some sleeping rough though snow and cold weather continued throughout the month.

He said that some people who camped out on the streets, believing they had no recourse to public funds, might be entitled to help from local authorities.

Brown added: “In many cases where we have intervened, we have found that people either didn’t know their rights or were being denied their rights to accommodation and entitlement to benefits. This needs to be urgently addressed as people’s lives are being badly affected.”

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Jen Ang, partner at human rights law firm Just Right Scotland – who works with destitute migrants and refugees in partnership with the Red Cross and Shelter Scotland – agreed that work was needed to ensure more people accessed their right to accommodation.

“Our work in the Migrant Destitution Project and in our StrEEt Aware Project [EU homelessness] has demonstrated that increasingly restrictive immigration legislation and policy, together with the social impact of the Brexit vote, has increased destitution and homelessness in migrant and EEA citizen populations across the UK, including in Scotland,” she said.

In surgeries with EU migrants in Edinburgh, hosted by homeless charity Streetwork, Just Right Scotland found that many people with the right to live and work in Scotland were being denied access to housing, benefit and other forms of support, because advice workers did not understand their entitlements.

“We believe that at risk EEA citizens, including street homeless individuals, are at heightened risk of exploitation and harm as a result of the barriers they face in identifying and proving their legal rights,” Ang added.

Grant Campbell, chief executive of the City Mission, said the charity did not believe anyone should sleep rough and it continued to work with all nationalities, providing practical care in its day centre and referring to legal partners where appropriate.

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said: “We fully recognise the difficulties faced by those who have no recourse to public funds. However, access to statutory homelessness support for those who have no recourse to public funds is legally constrained. If cases involve dependent children then there can be scope to provide support.”