Homelessness in the UK A survey of homelessness in London, UK and efforts to reorient their lives. London, England, UK
A survey of homelessness in London, UK and efforts to reorient their lives.
London, England, UK
Sean, 19, from south London
Sean is lying in a sleeping bag in a door entrance in Noel Street, eating a chocolate muffin; he also has a baguette wrapped in plastic. He suggests that we go and sit on some stairs while we talk. He doesn’t want me to help him carry anything there, in particular his food, in case I run away with it.
"I’ve been on the streets since I was 12. My Dad kicked me out. He was not very good to me, he never gave me decent clothes or anything. I went to school looking like a tramp. My Mum left a long time ago. I don’t have much education.
"I beg for money to finance my habit (he pulls up his jumper sleeve to show injection scars). I take any drug I can lay my hands on, but mainly heroin. I like AMP (liquid intravenous methadon) because it’s cleaner. I get it from people who have it prescribed by their doctor and then sell it on.
My hopes for the future? I hope to get a flat." (At this point he had to leave because he had made an arrangement with friends to get drugs.)
Colin, 27, from Leeds
Colin is sitting in a sleeping bag in a door entrance in Berwick Street, Soho, asking passers-by for money. At first reluctant to talk, saying he is not feeling well, he opens up as we talk.
"I have kidney pain because I drink too much. I generally don’t feel very well. My girlfriend (he points to a girl sitting in a doorway opposite on a large piece of cardboard) is trying to get me to stop drinking. For the past four years that doorway has been my home.
"I am homeless, let’s just say, because of family problems. I left Leeds because of too many bad memories. I am on the council housing waiting list.
"I regularly do part-time work, on and off, for different people. I claim benefits but the problem is benefits are not enough to live on. You have to pay for your clothes, for your washing. People think the homeless charities give you things for free but that is not true. You have to pay for their services, for everything, clothes and food, even at places like the Salvation Army or at soup kitchens like St Martin in the Fields in Trafalgar Square. Refugees who come here get more help than we do, including fully-furnished flats. The government is a waste of time. Fifteen of my friends have died in the last three years. I know I’ve got a niche somewhere but so far I’ve not been able to find it."
Sam, 19, from Lewisham, south London
Sam is sitting in a doorway and watches as Colin and I talk. She is happy to be interviewed on her own afterwards. She has a lot of pent-up energy, is very restless and scratches her body during the entire conversation. She is an ardent Chelsea Football Club supporter and proudly shows me that all her clothes are blue, her favourite colour, including her socks and her sleeping bag.
"I was born and bred in Lewisham and am on the council waiting list for a flat. My father works for Lewisham council. He kicked me out when I was 12. My mother is dead. She was a heroin addict. I have a three-year-old son. He lives with his father, I don’t want to have anything to do with his father. I see my son every day at nursery. He was expelled from nursery recently for stabbing another child with a pair of scissors.
I get £35 income-support every week but you can’t live on that, and they are being really difficult. I make a maximum of £8 a day by begging.I don’t take drugs, only occasionally. I know everyone around here. I hate the government, and I hate this country. My future? I would like to hitchhike around Europe and just stay where I like it. But in 10 years’ time I’ll be dead. So many people get killed and stabbed round here, not by us, but because there are many who hate the homeless."
From the December 1998 issue of Share International.