Homelessness

After life: Death + bereavement on the streets

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“I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Woody Allen is not the only one of us to avoid facing up to death. Dying is something we rarely talk about – despite the fact that it will happen to us all one day. But some homeless charities are trying to change that. On 5 November, Housing Justice and The Connection at St Martin’s are due to hold their annual service of commemoration for homeless people who have died in the past year. The names of the deceased will be read out in the service at St Martin-in-the-Fields church on Trafalgar Square, alongside hymns, readings and songs. Around 150 names had already been submitted in October.

Read the full article: http://thepavement.org.uk/stories.php?story=1954

Homelessness

From passive to active

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(The Pavement, 30 January 2013)  In the last issue, The Pavement introduced exP2A, a new leisure and fitness-focused charity run by former and current homeless service users. We sat down with two of its founders, Alex Ireland and James McPherson, in a cosy nook of the National Portrait Gallery to find out how the charity came about, how it will work and when the service will be up and running.

“What started the whole thing is that we see a really big gap in what’s really offered,” explains Ireland. “Homeless services are geared up to giving you somewhere to live and then providing support for basic needs but – and there’s a question whether it is their job to do any more than that – that’s as far as it goes. So you can either get into a flap about it or you can do something.”

Widely known in the homeless online community by her Twitter identity @aibaihe, exP2A director Ireland has long been a commentator on, and critic of, homeless services. So what’s it like to be on the other side of the fence? “This came up in our first meeting,” she admits. “How would we feel about being on the other side? We realised that it was important that we’re not.

“Although I’m very pro service-user employment, I’ve been quite critical of people who have gone straight from being homeless to being in a position of authority. That is quite dangerous and can make people feel very uncomfortable. But we’re not holding information or files on people; we’re not taking responsibility for them in that way. People can get involved on their own terms and we’re going to operate everything as a peer network.”

exP2A aims to give associates the chance to try new things and gain real skills. “At the moment is a lot of organisations running groups because they attract funding,” says Ireland. “And while a lot of organisations are coming round to the idea of service-user employment, they’re assuming that service users will become drug counsellors or work in hostels, but no more.” She hopes exP2A’s associates will discover activities and employment opportunities outside the homeless ‘bubble’. “You don’t just have to say, ‘Let’s stick them in a flat and that’s it. That’s all they can expect from life’.” The money the team raises through the fitness groups and other activities will go towards helping associates pay for personal training or group activities, be it learning to drive a forklift truck or going scuba diving. The condition is, they must decide together what to do with the money and learn to balance expensive activities with cheaper activities.

“The money will go into a central pool that they will help spend,” explains Ireland. “Obviously if they got the money [directly], it would to interfere with their benefits.”

Will associates be able to request funding for specific personal goals or needs? “Obviously, decisions have to be made as a group,” says Ireland. “But we might come up with a set of guidelines. Probably, down the line, if fundraising is successful, people could collect points based on attendance which they could put towards a personal goal.”

And exP2A’s empowering slogan, “From Passive to Active”, is not just about career prospects say Ireland. “It’s about showing people that you may be on benefits and if you do get a job, you’re not going to have much spare cash, but there are things you can do for free or you can budget to do some of the things you want – and you can build a community of like-minded people around you.” The exP2A team is starting to build a database of free and cheap things to do in London – from knitting clubs to, well, sitting in the National Portrait Gallery. They’d like to use this information to create an app, where you can enter your budget and discover cheap or free things to do within that.

Ireland is keen to be as frank as possible about launching a charity, and sees great potential in this approach. Asked about how long associates will stay with the charity, the plan is to wait and see. “We thought about that,” said Ireland. “Should it be a definite time thing? Should we be very organic about it? And we realised that until we do it, we don’t know. So keep it open, keep it public, admit to mistakes as we go along, and see where it takes us. But keep control of it, be very analytical and allow people to input. It’s a flat organisation. Obviously you’ve got people taking decisions about some things, but it’s more of a circle – that sounds really right on, but it’s true.”

Not everything’s gone to plan so far. Their Dickens-themed fundraising walk in July had to be cut short after half the team fell to injury (“There’s a rule that no one’s allowed to mention the Dickens’ Walk,” laughs Ireland), though they did raise £246. Then, after the charity’s October launch, the fitness groups were postponed to begin in January. And now, with Ireland heavily pregnant, they have been delayed again. “We’ll start the sessions after the [birth] and my two weeks’ mandatory break,” she says, optimistically. “And when the team’s back to full strength at the beginning of April, we’ll go back to running the three sessions a week at the correct time.”

For now, McPherson is keeping things ticking over and has taken to his position as Marketing & Community Manager like a duck to water. With only some basic experience (“I had some insight while I was at Centrepoint. Their communications department is absolutely fabulous and they allowed me to see into that world while I was there”), he has taken charge of exP2A’s Twitter account, website, marketing and publicity. “He’s the wonderkid,” marvels Ireland. “Basically, whatever you see it has been through him. And at the moment he’s also taking on my jobs. He’s the real thing, and anything that he didn’t know about before he’s learned on the job.”

While ex2PA’s on hold, McPherson’s been using the downtime to plan the charity’s marketing strategy. As well as handing out flyers outside Green Park Station and running the @DeskWorkout Twitter account, one plan is to start a controversial poster campaign. “We’re hoping to do that for the universities,” explains McPherson. “It’s essentially about challenging stereotypes about homeless people. One of the ideas was possibly using Alex and Brad, our other member of the team. He is a lot more masculine than I am [“he has quite an outwardly aggressive appearance,” interjects Alex with a laugh] and we thought if we had a few pictures of him motivating Alex as part of the fitness group, they could be cropped to look like something completely different.” A web address will direct people to the exp2A website, where they will see the full picture, in more ways than one. The results of and responses to the campaign, like all their planned marketing steps, will be reviewed online.

The team has also been testing the fitness plans. So what can participants expect to get for their very affordable £2 sessions (£10 per month for unlimited sessions)? “Initially, when people turn up we just do a meet and greet, get to know each other and answer any questions that they have about exP2A or homelessness in general,” says McPherson. “But really we just crack on with it, like a normal fitness session,” adds Ireland. Then after a warm-up, it’s on with the day’s fitness plan – which could include anything from running and walking to games. “The promise is that no fitness classes will be the same,” says Ireland. “And it’s very inclusive and informal as well. We’re a little bit inspired by British Military Fitness, who actually do classes in hostels, but they’re very hardcore and if you’re not up to that level it’s very difficult to get in.”

The sessions will take place in locations including Green Park, and the team is considering Lincoln’s Inn as another possible site – given its many soup runs and local students (one of exP2A’s future target groups). And although Ireland says she would consider an inside venue if it was offered, she prefers to keep the sessions outdoors. “Sometimes people feel better about being in an open space. If they really don’t like it they can melt away into the trees… Plus everyone can smoke – I don’t think we’d get anyone to come otherwise!” She’s also hoping permission won’t be an issue. “We’re not using it for commercial reasons – because our idea is that we’re just a group of people coming together and people are giving a suggested donation… Some parks are very strict about it but they’re not the parks we’re using anyway.”

Will they be looking for funders? “We may,” she says cautiously. “But we don’t want to fall into that trap of going for funding which then becomes necessary. We wanted it to be something that could be set up on a minimal budget and we want other people to take up the idea. We’re thinking of preparing a pack, like Housing Justice has for winter shelters, so that if someone wants to run a scheme, they’ve got all that information rather than having to go back to square one.”

They’ve had lots of feedback and queries from homeless organisations, hostels and would-be associates or volunteers. “It’s just this massive, unwieldy thing at the moment, so the difficulty has been reining it in,” admits Ireland. “We have massive ideas and bringing them to fruition will take a lot of time and effort, but [we have] to have the courage to say, ’OK, it looks quite simple at the moment but we do have big ideas, so bear with us’. The goal is to concentrate on those small things and get them right in the beginning, then start building.”

http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=1568

Homelessness

Invisible People film UK homeless

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(The Pavement, 17 July 2012)  “Hold on a minute.” Seconds after meeting Mark Horvath, founder of pioneering US video blog Invisible People, he disappears into the crowd outside Charing Cross station. He’s spotted three sitting men by the entrance and wastes no time in getting acquainted. “You guys sleeping rough? Want some socks?” he asks cheerfully, before kneeling down to chat properly while commuters stream by unseeing. Horvath seems to have a radar for homeless people, which is unsurprising given he has dedicated his life to trying to help them. One of the men agrees to be filmed and as he recounts his experiences, passers-by look over curiously. With a camera in his face, he’s no longer invisible.

Making homeless people visible is exactly why Horvath set up InvisiblePeople.tv in 2008. Some 17 years ago he too had been homeless, living on Hollywood Boulevard, and knew what it was to be ignored, to not be able to tell his story. He managed to rebuild his life, built a successful career in television and settled into a three-bedroom house (“I know the best of both worlds – I know how to dumpster dive and how to tie a Windsor knot”) – and then economy crashed around him. Facing homelessness for a second time, he decided to set up Invisible People and go on the road. “It wasn’t the best timing. I had just lost my house to foreclosure, was facing my own financial crisis and it was a really dark time.” However he was embraced by the social media community and the site flourished. Today Invisible People has three million views on YouTube and 18,000 followers on Twitter. “The amazing statistic about Invisible People is the amount of people that stay,” adds Horvath. “Twenty-five per cent stay longer than 10 minutes and 14 per cent stay longer than half an hour. That’s huge.” Its success is the subject of upcoming documentary @home, which follows Horvath on his 2010 Invisible People road tour, meeting homeless people from Las Vegas to LA.

Right now, though, Horvath is in the UK on a whirlwind visit (thanks to free airfare from British Airways), taking in London and Chippenham (home of the Doorway Project). Although this is his first time in the capital, Horvath says he has no desire to do anything touristy: “I’m here just to meet homeless people, meet homeless friends. Most people would probably want to go to Big Ben or the London Eye. I’ll eat fish and chips and that will be it!”

Already the site is populated with videos of people he’s met so far in London. The first features 22-year-old Natasha, who has been living on the streets of London for four years. Leaning on her crutches, she quietly explains why she hasn’t been housed (“I’m not a drug addict, I’m not an alcoholic and I’m not pregnant, and they’re three things that get you help”) and her face lights up as she shares her dream of being a writer.

Filming the piece was tough, said Horvath, “I didn’t know what to ask her – it broke my heart… because I know what a young girl has gone through or will go through on the streets”. Already the video has been watched more than 160,000 times on YouTube, and attracted everything from offers of support, a place to live and a hand in marriage to vitriolic comments suggesting she is lying, on drugs and should get a job in McDonalds or as “a street hooker”. Nadia Gomos aka @Homelessgirl1 examined the responses in her blog post Analysing The Controversy Surrounding The “Natasha” Video (now on Huffington Post), concluding “All I know about Natasha is two minutes’ worth of footage on a person who has lived for 22 years… Whether we like it or not, we as a society have failed her.” Even Horvath comes under criticism, with one commenter writing: “Had an email back from Invisible People and they don’t have any contact details or way of contacting her, seems to me to be completely pointless highlighting a problem on a personal level like they did and then not enabling people to help that person.”

The aim of Invisible People, however, is not to act as an agent between individual homeless people and the general public, but to encourage passers-by to notice the homeless people they walk past every day. Nevertheless Horvath is not naïve that he or those he films won’t face criticism or appraisal: “The interesting thing about the internet is that everybody is up for review, so you have to live transparently. And there are always people that are going to be negative. This is how I responded, because it’s the truth; when you saw me homeless, would you have believed me when I told you I used to work in television?”

And despite the negative feedback, Horvath is still a big believer in the transformative and supportive power of social media. “Social media saved my life and it helps me save other people’s lives… Love and reciprocity plays really big on social media. If you’re good to people and real and tell a story people are going to react to that in a positive way.” As well as Invisible People he has set up We Are Visible, a website offering homeless visitors advice in social media literacy, from how to set up a blog to tweeting. “When I first started this I thought when a homeless person in Phoenix, Arizona or someplace says ‘I’m hungry’, the service providers would be on Twitter and say ‘hey, we have food’” says Horvath. “But what happened, which was a little more gorgeous, was homeless people helping homeless people over social media. Then I realised the power of peer-to-peer support.” In response he is in the process of turning it the site into closed network for people to help each other.

Another reason for the change is privacy. “One of first things that is so hard for a homeless person is to raise their hand in public and say ‘I’m homeless’,” explains Horvath. Since he’s been in London, he met many homeless people who although not willing to go on camera were keen to swap email addresses and keep in touch online. Horvath’s @HardlyNormal and @Invisible People timelines are full of conversations and appointment making with homeless people and service providers in London – all keen to meet or share ideas. “I landed and Jenny Edwards [CEO of Homeless Link] – she’s like an icon in homelessness here, she’s an amazing woman – she tweets me about the StreetWise Opera at the Royal Opera House. It was history in the making…it was almost like it was my destiny to be there and I was just blown away amazed.” Since the performance an online twitter petition has sprung up calling for a homeless opera at every Olympics, starting with Rio in 2016. “We’ve seen in the Middle East and other areas where social media has really led to some change,” says Horvath. “I really believe that’s where the change is going to happen. Because there’s so much money and so much bureaucracy in homeless services, that until the people on the streets have that voice you’re not going to see real change or see change happen fast.”

By voicing their views, he believes, homeless people can help homeless services ‘fix’ provision. “No homeless person I’ve ever met said ‘put in me a room with other 100 men, have me sleep on cots, give me one bathroom with two stalls and kick me out in the morning – and that’s going to cure my mental health and drug addiction. But that’s what we do.” Having been homeless and now working in a homeless shelter as his main source of income, Horvath himself is a natural intermediary. “When you listen to homeless services you hear a story. When you listen to homeless people on the streets you hear a story. And the truth I think lies somewhere in the middle. Cos everyone is going from their perspective and obviously a lot of street people are speaking out of their hurt and that’s because the system is broken. And refreshingly enough I was talking to homeless service providers last night [in London] who were saying ‘the system is broken, we got to change it, it’sjust change is slow and it’s a lot of work’.”

Horvath is optimist change can come. “When I was a kid I was a rebel, and if I saw any injustice I fought, I screamed, I yelled. And the only thing that changed was me. Now that I’m older I believe you have to work within the system, you have to make friends not enemies. I come in and say ‘hey, system’s broken, how can we fix it together?’” This approach is bearing fruit. In Arkansas, a farmer donated 40 acres of land that is being used to feed 150 low-income families a week. The Canadian government commissioned Horvath to go to 24 cities in Canada to help champion the Canadian Alliance To End Homelessness, which he says “will save thousands of lives and a lot of money”. Terry Pettigrew was reunited with his long-lost brother shortly before he died of cancer, after the Calgary Times put Horvath’s interview with Pettigrew on its front page. And that’s just the beginning.

“We live in a visual world – Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube,” explains Horvath. “Where homeless services are missing the mark is giveour homeless friends video cameras. If you’re going to give them a Smartphone make sure it has video and have them upload what their day is like. That’s where you’re going to see change.”

http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=1532

Homelessness

London´s internet cafe homeless hostels

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(The Pavement, 15 June 2012)  In 2009, a flurry of stories about Japan’s “net café refugees” filled the national media – including The Pavement. But the issue may be closer to home, with reports of homeless people sleeping in London’s 24-hour internet cafés.

However, while some internet café owners in Japan were reported as offering individual cubicles, hot food and ‘per night’ rates, not all of their London counterparts are as keen to have sleeping surfers. One owner of a 24-hour Leicester Square internet café told The Pavement that he has had to take steps to dissuade homeless clients: “We get plenty of homeless people here – that’s why I had to close [the section] downstairs. We had people every night – it was affecting business. I don’t know how they have the money. I think some of them have money but prefer to live rough.”

Another nearby proprietor has encountered a similar situation in his downstairs internet café: “We have regular customers who sometimes fall asleep – I don’t know if they’re homeless or not. We don’t allow users to sleep in the dark corners at the back any more, as one time there was someone still here when we closed.”

In December, The Irish Times reported on homeless people sleeping overnight in internet cafés in Dublin. An outreach team described the numbers as “small, but growing and significant”, with two 24-hour internet cafés in Dublin’s city centre pinpointed as being used by homeless people to sleep. One charges €10 per night and even advertises itself in a window poster as being “cheaper than a hostel”.

We asked street outreach teams in London if they have come across people sleeping in internet cafés. Mike Nicholas, communications manager at Thames Reach, says the charity’s London Street Rescue service and Street Outreach Response Teams (SORTS) have had no referrals for people sleeping in internet cafés. “For internet cafés to be viable long-term locations to sleep rough, they would probably need to be open around the clock,” he explains. “I suspect that only very central London locations would have such internet cafés and Thames Reach, which covers which cover 23 of the 33 London boroughs, doesn’t operate in London’s West End, which is looked after by other homelessness charities… Were you to have any information about locations, we would, of course, investigate in order to provide support to those homeless people.”

Feedback from St Mungos’ Westminster Street Outreach and Street Concern, gathered by Media Manager Judith Higgin, “was broadly that [there are] very few open access 24 hour internet cafés in the areas where we have outreach teams, that we’re aware occasionally of people who send emails from libraries to streetconcern@mungos.org asking for advice about their situation. But in terms of rough sleepers ‘bedding down’ in internet cafés this is not really something staff have come across.”

Liz MacEwen, senior communications officer at Camden Council, echoed this: “Although many of our clients do use internet cafés, this is not a problem that has been reported in the borough.” Online forums reveal a few hints from homeless users, such as the posting on a Yahoo forum by a homeless teenager who writes: “I’ve got nowhere to go because I’ve been thrown out of my house by my hysterical mother, so I was wondering whether or not there are Internet Cafés where I could stay till very very late… I’m 16 btw so will I be allowed to stay on my own? thank you.”

http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=1517

African arts, culture + politics · Homelessness

Far from home

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(ARISE magazine, issue 15) After a starring performance in acclaimed film The First Grader, Kenyan actor Oliver Litondo could have lent on Hollywood for his next role. Instead the 63-year-old former journalist chose a part in a short film about homelessness. The Truth About Stanley centres around the eccentric Congolese homeless man of the film’s title (played by Litondo), who forms an unlikely friendship with runaway Sam, regaling the 10 year old with fantastic tales. “What he lacks in material possessions, he makes up for with his vivid imagination and an insatiable desire to tell stories,” explains director and co-writer Lucy Tcherniak. “This storytelling serves as a coping mechanism, a crutch that allows him to deal with the harsh hand life has dealt him.” Produced in association with UK street newspaper The Big Issue and homeless hostel Anchor House, the film was shot over five days in London and premieres at London arts hub Rich Mix on April 2.

http://www.thetruthaboutstanley.blogspot.com

Homelessness

Rough sleepers predicted to live longer – 47 is the new 42

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(The Pavement, 11 February 2012) The outdated and overused statistic that “the life expectancy of someone who sleeps rough is 42 years” has finally been updated. The original figure came from Crisis’ 1996 report Still Dying For A Home (which we reported on in May 2010). The new report from Sheffield University, also commissioned by Crisis, ups this figure to 47.

But this doesn’t mean 46-year-old Pavement readers should start worrying. What the 1996 and 2011 Crisis reports calculate is not how long homeless people can expect to live, but their average age of death.

The briefing to the new report, Homelessness: A Silent Killer, makes this clear (unlike the 1996 study) by avoiding the term “life expectancy.”

In comparison to the average age of death in the so-called general population (77) it’s a shocking, headline-grabbing figure – even though the reason the figure is so low is that more homeless people die at a young age, dragging down the overall average.

Cause and effect

In the briefing to the report (which is still to be released in full), Crisis chief executive Leslie Morphy summarises: “This report paints a bleak picture of the consequences homelessness has on people’s health and wellbeing. Ultimately, it shows that homelessness is killing people.”

However, while being homeless can exacerbate existing health problems or even cause them, not having a home was not found to be the main cause of death among those counted. Instead, the study found homeless people are over nine times more likely to commit suicide than the general population, three times as likely to die as a result of a traffic accident, twice as likely to die of an infection and three times more likely to suffer from a fatal fall.

Most significantly, however, it calculated that drug and alcohol abuse account for just over a third of all deaths – a huge proportion. But drug and alcohol abuse of course also affects (and kills) members of the general population too. And as Jeremy Swain, CEO of Thames Link, commented on Twitter soon after the release of the report briefing on 21 December: “we know from robust academic research that alcohol and drug misuse nearly always precedes homelessness”.

Counting issues

The researchers also faced major obstacles in methodology. As Dr Bethan Thomas admits in the report: “Almost by definition, it is difficult to count homeless people and it is not possible to reliably estimate mortality for the previously homeless who have now found secure accommodation and so to discover what the long term effects of a period of homelessness might be. It is also difficult to count deaths of homeless persons. Death certificates do not record the deceased’s housing status.”

Despite these obstacles, Dr Thomas went ahead with the report – finding potential homeless deaths by matching postcodes from mortality data provided by the Office for National Statistics with postcodes of homeless day centres and hostel accommodation as provided by Homeless Link. In total 1,731 deaths (where the person was definitely homeless or there is a high probability they were) were counted.

What next?

Crisis has used the new report’s findings to outline a set of recommendations to improve homeless people’s health, in short: prioritise the needs of homeless people in the restructure of the NHS, reform health service delivery for homeless people and ensure provision meets needs and is integrated and holistic.

The next phase of the project, to be published in summer 2012, will investigate cause of death by age and analyse more detailed causes of death – plus, it is hoped, mortality by different accommodation type and area.

http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=1425

Homelessness

A rubbish way to die

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(The Pavement, 10 December 2011) Last month The Pavement ran its first advert warning of the dangers of sleeping in bins (pictured). But how widespread is this issue and what is being done to discourage it? We asked Biffa, one of the UK’s leading waste management companies, if this is something they’re aware of and, if so, do they have any records to indicate the scale of the problem?

“It is on our radar,” confirmed Shaun Davis, Biffa’s Group Director of Health & Safety and the Environment. “In terms of statistics we’re quite fortunate because in the last three years we’ve had one accident involving a person in a bin, which resulted in a guy injuring his leg.”

Sadly, over the years, The Pavement has learned of and reported on much more severe, and sometimes fatal, cases. Just last month, two homeless men who were sleeping in a bin in San Antonio, Texas, were accidentally dumped into a waste truck compacter. According to KSAT news, one of the pair, Richard Salinas, managed to escape and raise the alarm but it was too late for the other man trapped inside, who was crushed from the waist down and later died.

In a bid to avoid tragedies such as this, Biffa has implemented a series of “pre-lift” procedures, designed to make sure no one in sleeping inside a bin before it is lifted and tipped into the waste truck. As well as visually checking that no one is in the bin, the bin is rattled once the lifting forks are in position to give anyone inside another opportunity to make themselves known. The trucks are also fitted with cameras, which film the rubbish material as it is tipped into the truck and relay the images back to the cab, giving staff another opportunity to spot a body.

Similar procedures were recommended in People in Commercial Waste Containers, a guidance document issued by the Health and Safety Executive in June 2010. Although not a legal document, it is made clear that “if you adopt the practice and principles described, you should be taking sufficient action to discharge your legal duties, and secure compliance with the law.” Required actions include carrying out a risk assessment of “all of the significant risks relating to the storage and subsequent collection of commercial waste, including the possibility of people gaining entry into bins.”

As well as implemented on-theground procedures, Biffa is keen to make sure its employees are aware of the risks. “We’ve created a DVD called People in Bins, which we rolled across the entire organisation to educate people,” says Mr Davis. “Secondly, as we know we’re coming into that season now which is particularly wet and cold, we run refresher programmes – what we call Toolbox Talks – which are short briefing sessions on the risk of people in bins and the dangers associated… Obviously it’s a risk all year round and particularly a risk in winter when it’s cold and wet, so we’re particularly active at discouraging it then.”

Another step Biffa is currently taking is to introduce a “near miss” reporting programme. “We are looking at actually identifying how many people we think might have been in a bin prior to us lifting it,” explains Mr Davis. “And also when we actually do move it, if anybody is found to be in that bin, making sure that our people report that internally as a near miss because that’s a potential accident – it might have been stopped at that time but we still need to know why.” Under the new scheme, staff will be able to call the Biffa call centre to notify the safety team immediately.

Biffa, like other waste management companies, has also introduced lockable tops and warning stickers on bins, although how effective such stickers are is unclear. The bin slept in by the two men in San Antonio had warning stickers on, and warning stickers were introduced in Brighton long before the death of teacher Scott Williams, who was crushed in a rubbish lorry after falling asleep in an industrial bin. Following that accident, in July 2009, City Clean “upgraded” its warning stickers on large bins and worked with the council’s homeless team to put up posters in hostels and other buildings visited by rough sleepers to warn them of the danger of sleeping in bins.

While Mr Davis sounds a note of caution about raising the issue of sleeping in bins – “people may not have thought of bins being nice and warm and dry and cosy” – he believes educating people is vital, and shouldn’t stop with Biffa. “If you were to lobby the ESA [Environmental Services Authority] then they in turn might get behind a campaign like this and get a number of the other waste organisations behind this. It’s something that I’m particularly keen on promoting and if it came from both sides – from the industry and pressure groups or public groups such as yourself – it could be really worthwhile.”

http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=1382

Homelessness

Unemployed pushed to back of housing queue

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(The Pavement, 8 November 2011) Unemployed people will be pushed down the housing register under a new proposal from London’s Westminster Council, introduced to “discourage a benefits culture.”

Under the council’s new housing allocation policy, which will come into force on 30 January 2012, applicants who have been working for more than two years will receive 50 extra ‘points’, moving them closer to gaining a council home.

To qualify, the applicant (be it an individual or the main applicant from a family) must have been working at least 16 hours per week under a written contract for at least two years. Applicants with temporary contracts, meanwhile, must have been employed continuously, with no more than one month’s gap between contracts.

Successful applicants will keep their bonus employment points until they have been re-housed or their application is closed. If they lose their job, the points will not be removed, as long as there is a “realistic prospect of re-employment.”

Those who have been looking for work for more than two years will also receive 50 extra points, as long as they have been “actively engaged” with the council’s Homeless Employment Learning Project, which aims to help those in temporary accommodation into work or further education.

According to Westminster Council’s cabinet member for housing and corporate property, Councillor Jonathan Glanz, “These changes ensure that not only do we prioritise the most vulnerable, including those living in overcrowded properties and those with medical needs, but we also reward those who are doing their best not to be dependent on the state by working or actively seeking work.”

The council is also hoping that the employed people they house will later move out of their council home into private accommodation, leaving their former property available for other people on the housing list.

The plans have met opposition and criticisms from a number of homeless groups and MPs. Alastair Murray, deputy director for Housing Justice, told the Evening Standard that many people would find it difficult to provide the required paperwork, adding: “Quite a lot of homeless people do work but the kind of work they are able to do is quite unstable, so they may not be eligible.”

For Kay Boycott, Shelter’s director of campaigns, policy and communications, the real issue is not the allocation of social housing but the amount of it: “Britain’s desperate shortage of social housing makes decisions around how to allocate it incredibly difficult. What we really need is to build more truly affordable homes for families across the country so we do not find ourselves in this difficult position of having to judge who is most worthy of this scarce resource.”

Earlier this year, Councillor Guthrie McKie, Labour’s Housing spokesperson, described the proposal as “very unfair and extremely divisive.” However, Councillor McKie may find scant support higher up in her own party. At the annual Labour Party conference, Ed Miliband declared: “When we have a housing shortage, choices have to be made. Do we treat the person who contributes to their community the same as the person who doesn’t? My answer is ‘no’. Our first duty should be to help the person who shows responsibility.”

Additional priority will also be given to applicants who have lived in Westminster continuously for 10 years. While priority is already given to applicants with young children, who are homeless or have special medical needs.

Westminster’s plans are just one example of a wider trend, which is seeing unemployed social housing applicants penalised across the country.

Similar policies have already been introduced or proposed in Manchester, Wandsworth and Newham. While in its recent Housing Allocations Consultation, Hammersmith & Fulham stated: “The council is proposing to provide a fixed number of new lettings each year for people who have taken part in specific council-supported programmes to get back into training or employment.”

On a national scale, the minister for housing, Grant Shapps, has pledged to give local authorities the freedom to draw up their own social housing priorities list. In an article for Inside Housing, Shapps wrote: “I believe that many councils will use their new powers to reward and acknowledge those actively working and contributing to their local area, as Westminster and others have done. And rightly so.”

Shapps insisted that “we will retain the ╘reasonable preference’ criteria, establishing proper priority for those in greatest need”, however the vulnerable are not immune from the shifts in policy. Under the new Localism Bill, homeless applicants would be forced to accept offers of “suitable private accommodation” – or face a penalty. This shift, it is explained in the Department for Communities and Local Government’s (CLG) Localism Bill Impact Assessment will allow local authorities to “discharge the duty they owe to homeless households.”

If passed, the law would also allow local authorities to operate closed waiting lists, removing the right for anyone (without restriction) to apply for social housing. According to the CLG’s impact assessment, “Under this option, the rules determining which categories of applicants qualify to be considered for social housing would be decided at the local level,” although “the rules determining which applicants receive priority for social housing would continue to be set centrally via the statutory ╘reasonable preference’ categories.”

Shelter issued a briefing for the second reading of the bill, in which it expressed concern over the “undermining” of the legal duty to homeless people: “The proposed changes sever the link between homelessness and recognising the need for a settled home by allowing councils to discharge homeless households into the insecure PRS [Private Rented Sector] rather than find them a settled homeâ•” there is a distinct lack of good quality housing at the bottom end of the PRS market meaning that many of the most vulnerable households will be placed in unsuitable accommodation.”

Another proposal Shelter has requested to be removed from the bill is the removing of tenancy lease security, which would allow councils to reassess tenants after a minimum of two years and evict them if they no longer met the criteria, in terms of for example income and benefits.

The Localism Bill is to have its third reading in the House of Lords on 31 October.

Homelessness

Homeless people victims of slave trade

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(The Pavement, 6 October 2011) Following the rescue of 24 “slaves” from a traveller’s site in Bedfordshire, it has emerged homeless people are being abused as slave labour.

The dramatic police raid at the site has received huge national and international coverage, as details of the conditions in which the men were held emerge. Detective Chief Inspector Sean O’Neil, from the Bedforshire and Hertfordshire Major Crime Unit, said: “The men we found at the site were in a poor state of physical health and the conditions they were living in were shockingly filthy and cramped. We believe that some of them had been living and working there in a state of virtual slavery, some for just a few weeks and other for up to 15 years.”

Although Bedfordshire Police were unable to confirm this to The Pavement, the Guardian has reported that those found were “all vulnerable men who had been recruited from homeless shelters and dole queues”. They ranged from 17 to 30 and include ten British men, three Polish men, two Romanian men, a Latvian man and a Lithuanian man. Of the 24, nine chose not to assist the police and left the medical reception centre where they were initially taken. The police have been working with the UK Human Trafficking Centre on the operation, which is according to a report in the Times is suspected to be part of a wider slavery chain holding up to 100 captives. Although in a statement from Bedfordshire Police, Detective Chief Inspector O’Neil said: “I am confident that while the investigation is in its early stages this is a family run ‘business’ and is an organised crime group that has been broken up by the Netwing operation.”

Following the raid at Greenacre caravan site in Leighton Buzzard, four men and one woman were arrested using new legislation under the Slavery and Servitude Act 2010. The men – James Connor, 23, Tommy Connor, 26, Patrick Connor, 19 and James Connor, 33 – appeared at Luton Magistrates Court and have been remanded in custody to appear at Luton Crown Court on the provisional date of 5 December 2011. The fifth defendant, Josie Connors, 30, was charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit offences of holding people in servitude, plus two counts of requiring people to perform forced labour, appeared in court on 22 September.

For many homeless charities, although the accusations are appalling, they are not a surprise. Thames Reach spokesman Mike Nicholas said, “We’ve been concerned for a number of months now that unscrupulous gangs are targeting homeless people. We’ve been made aware of cases where people from these gangs have approached people where homeless people gather, like soup runs or day centres.”

In total, Thames Reach has been approached by 22 people who’ve run away from the gangs, and received reports from London, Birmingham, Manchester, Southampton, Dover and Luton. “Many were trafficked across from Central and Eastern Europe with offers of jobs and accommodation,” explains Mr Nicholas, “and then when they got here these jobs failed to materialise and often people were subject to physical assault, maybe had to take credit cards or bank accounts out in their names, or were forced to work in factories. We were aware of people being shipped every day from a property in the Midlands to a bakery in Luton.”

In response, Thames Reach put out a warning to other homeless organisations and projects last March. In terms of helping the victims themselves, Mr Nicholas outlined a few possible avenues: “We could help put them in touch with the police if they had been victims of these gangs… Some of them are very fearful and don’t want to talk about their experiences and they’re worried about repercussions and so we’ve been helping some of those people go home. Other people are currently here in safe houses and there are police investigations taking place.”

For Jad Adams, Chair of Croydon Nightwatch, the practice goes back much further: “Around three years ago we were getting a number of people who were coming to our soup run in Central Croydon and trying to recruit people. We challenged them and asked what they were doing and they were evasive. One of our team also followed them and took the numbers of their vehicles.”

Croydon Council also stepped in to help, collating the information to pass to the police, while the soup run’s volunteers began issuing leaflets in English and Polish. “Even if the clients themselves aren’t particularly concerned,” said Mr Adams, “the gang leaders are savvy and they know that we’re on to them.” Since then the Croydon Nightwatch hasn’t seen any more such recruiters.

So what was the advice in their leaflet? “It was to be aware,” explained Mr Adams, “but also to know exactly what the work is, what the rates of pay are and where you are going to be working. And never give away your passport or identity documents.”

This need for awareness has been echoed by many, including Mike McCall, St Mungo’s Executive Director of Operations, who said: “These reports are very concerning. Rough sleepers are some of society’s most vulnerable people. We need to be ever watchful that they aren’t being exploited.”

http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=1346

Homelessness

The future of soup

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(The Pavement, 16 September 2011)  It’s been branded illegal by human rights group Liberty, but Westminster City Council’s proposed byelaw banning soup runs around Westminster Cathedral Piazza has still not been withdrawn.

Soup run representatives agreed to move out of the area to avoid the ban, but despite this the council has not ruled out enforcing the byelaw.

Furthermore, having moved away from Westminster Cathedral Piazza, soup runs are facing fresh complaints from local residents and businesses in their new locations.

Liberty highlighted the illegality of the byelaw with a high-profile stunt, in which it delivered letters to Westminster City councillors, urging them to rethink, in a giant can labelled ‘Cream of Conscience Soup.’

In its letter, Liberty said the plans were unlawful on a number of human rights and common law grounds. It also quoted lawyers from London chambers 11KBW as describing the proposed byelaw as “over-broad and draconian, criminalising lawful and benign conduct which… is entirely unconnected with any legitimate aim which Westminster claims to pursue.”

The lawyers, it is reported, go on to ask: “Is it genuinely the case that a mother who gives her child milk while travelling home [..] is to be criminalised? That a diabetic cannot be given a piece of chocolate? Or that two students sharing a soft drink [..] should be subject to arrest and criminal fine?”

The human rights group also drew attention to fellow organisations against the campaign, including Housing Justice, Church Action on Poverty and the British Medical Association. While in a further letter to Alastair Reeves from Westminster City Council, Liberty’s policy officer Sophie Farthing declared the human rights group would “consider seeking redress in the courts” if the byelaw was passed.

Soup run organisers operating around the Westminster Cathedral Piazza were made aware of the decision to move out of the area through the recent Cathedral Soup Month awareness campaign and on-the-ground promotion by Housing Justice, The Passage and other groups and individuals.

In response, as The Pavement’s listings demonstrate, a number of soup runs have relocated and others, , including Harlow Chocolate Run and Winchmore Hill Quakers, are taking a break until further notice, The Pavement has been advised.

Coptic City Mission, Missionaries of Charity and Street Souls all moved to Brewers Green, while Sacred Heart relocated to Tothill Street. However, some groups have had to uproot once again after residents, owners and staff of luxury flats on Brewers Green issued complaints. Housing Justice has also been contacted by concerned residents around Tothill Street.

“The council didn’t inform residents who live around Tothill Street that the soup runs were going to move there, which residents were quite upset about,” explains Housing Justice Soup Run Forum Support Worker Ellie Schling. “They’d had problems with people sleeping in their doorways, so they were worried that the soup runs being on Tothill Street would increase that and they wondered why the council didn’t talk to them about it.” So far there have been no specific complaints about increased rough sleeping in the area.

All the upheaval has also provoked confusion around where the soup runs are taking place, as readers in the Victoria area will no doubt have found. “People are frustrated,” continues Ms Schling. “They feel like it’s almost as bad as the ban, having to move every two weeks. I think people in Victoria are missing out on food, there’s less food available, there’s a lot of confusion but hopefully it will settle down.”

Chief Executive of Street Souls David Coombe has also noticed frustration and confusion among soup run users. Street Souls recently moved to Brewers Green – away from its previous site on Ashley Place, adjacent to Westminster Cathedral – but was forced to leave away just one week following reports of complaints from residents. Street Souls’ soup run now operates from Christchurch Gardens, a non-residential spot, surrounded by offices. The first run in the new location proved a success, says Mr Coombe: “The problem was getting the word around. But we had quite a big team come out and what we did on the way up was drive around where we used to distribute food… We found probably 30 people on Brewers Green, about 10 at our old place – Ashley Gardens, and around 20 in Tothill Street.” Street Souls plan to continue their twice-monthly distributions at Christchurch Gardens – unless a better offer comes up. “If an indoor service became available in Central Victoria we’d certainly favourably consider it,” says Mr Coombe, “but we will not move out of the Central Victoria area. We’re being pressured to do that – even by The Passage – but we’re not going to do it.”

Until a new routine is established, the advice is to keep an eye on the Housing Justice website and The List. Westminster City Council’s aim is to engage people with “building-based services”; however, turning outdoor soup runs into indoor soup kitchens is not so simple. The problem is not lack of interest, as demonstrated by a recent questionnaire carried out by Miranda Keast, from The Passage, Ms Schling and Christian Morgenstern, from Imperial College Community Action Group (CAG). The survey found that 64 per cent of respondents would prefer indoor services if available, 28 per cent did not mind and eight per cent preferred outdoor services, some because it meant they could bring their pet. The real problem is lack of provision.

Although Westminster City Council frequently cites its three build-based services – The Passage, St Mungo’s and Connection at St Martin’s – these don’t constitute a suitable or even potential space for soup runs to move into. The only option at present seems to be King George’s, an already small space where several runs have now relocated. With no assistance from Westminster City Council on finding suitable indoor venues, Housing Justice has taken on the task of calling churches and hostels in a bid to find more space. “The council hasn’t helped at all, hasn’t come up with anywhere for us to go, which is a problem,” said Ms Schling. “We could really, really use more indoor places.” Westminster Council is however still meeting with the small group of soup run representatives, made up of residents groups, hostel representatives, police, members of the Soup Run Forum and Westminster Council’s manager of Rough Sleeping and Street Activity Janet Haddington. The meetings are chaired by Thames Reach Chief Executive Jeremy Swain, who has recently been out visiting soup runs in Victoria. “I have seen two soup runs in action myself tonight,” he reported recently on his blog, “and I’m told by those who have gathered that another two are expected… The sheer drama of the scene and its compelling actors is seductive. But this is the summer of 2011 and I have witnessed the mass feeding of the poor on the streets of central London. There has to be a better way. ” How long the multi-party meetings will continue for is unclear, although a spokesman for Westminster City Council said that the group is to report back in another couple of weeks and suggested the council may be able to say about the situation then.

Ms Schling from Housing Justice believes that although there are still reasons for them not to pass the byelaw, the council don’t want to withdraw the threat of the byelaw because that means it can still be held over their heads. Also, she adds, “I don’t think the residents of the Cathedral area are satisfied because there are still homeless people sleeping in the Cathedral Piazza and hanging around McDonalds.”

Cllr Daniel Astaire, Westminster Council’s cabinet member for Adult Services and Health, gave The Pavement his update of the situation: “There have been productive discussions between providers, the council, charities, residents and other interest groups, chaired by Thames Reach, to find the best way to address the over provision of soup runs in this particular area of Westminster.

“Indoor provision of food is one way to help rough sleepers and great strides have been made towards increasing such this provision, with a number of organisations already making space available. We would also urge voluntary groups and local authorities across London and the UK to work together to tackle rough sleeping. In some cases we know that people have been told to travel into Victoria from outside London to wait for food. This is not a dignified way to treat people, especially when their best hope of finding somewhere to live lies in their local connections.

“The byelaw remains a last resort, we would much rather find other solutions. And whilst taking provision indoors, where people can also access other forms of help, is a positive step forward it is by no means the complete solution to tackling the difficulties faced by vulnerable people and rough sleepers. We are encouraged by the work done to date, but are under no illusions that more still needs to be done.”

Meanwhile Camden Council has shown signs of joining neighbouring Westminster Council’s drive to bring soup runs under local authority control. In a letter to Mr Morgenstern, Camden Council’s Community Presence Manager Guy Arnold highlights “ongoing community safety concerns with regard to the provision of free food in public spaces, including Lincoln’s Inn Field” – despite, as pointed out in Mr Morgenstern’s reply, the CAG soup run taking place in a non-residential area within Westminster.

As well as muting the idea of CAG moving into a building, Mr Arnold offers a deal: “If, for example you were to consider ceasing to provide actual soup runs and instead offering homeless people practical help in different ways then I would be able to assist in bringing about this change… There are for example many useful voluntary roles including providing escorts to assist those who decide rebuild their lives in their home area and I believe that your organisation could make a valuable contribution to this work.”

http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=1324

Homelessness

The Westminster ban

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(The Pavement, 12 May 2011) Westminster City Council’s proposed byelaw banning soup runs and rough sleeping is looking increasingly shaky as opposition grows, deadlines are delayed and Conservative councillors come out against the plans.

Reported as the policy of a “callous” and “heartless” Tory council (Daily Mail and Mirror, respectively), it seemed the byelaw was unanimously backed by the Conservative councillors who hold the majority in Westminster City Council. However, this does not entirely seem to be the case.

The Pavement emailed all of Westminster’s 48 Conservative councillors to ask whether they support the byelaw, oppose the byelaw or have not made up their mind. Three responded: Councillor Philippa Roe replied “this is not my portfolio” and suggested speaking to Daniel Astaire; Councillor Michael said “I strongly support the byelaw”; while Councillor Glenys Roberts, a Daily Mail journalist, stated “I oppose the byelaw, I think this has to be handled more sensitively.”

And it seems that Cllr Roberts is not alone, with reports that a Conservative councillor had voiced his opposition to the byelaw on a visit to a soup run. The Pavement also spoke to Labour Councillor Adam Hug, who said: “What’s not clear to us is precisely what the mood on the Conservative backbenches is. I think there will be a lot of concern… There are lots of people who have generally held concerns about the issue, and I think probably you’ll have to speak to some of them to find out what exactly is going on behind closed doors.”

The Conservatives have an even more high-profile dissenter to add to their list, too, namely the Mayor of London. Under persistent questioning from Liberal Democrat Member of the Greater London Assembly Mike Tuffrey, Boris Johnson finally clarified his position at Mayor’s Question Time on 23 March, saying: “I do not want to ban soup runs, provided they are part of a strategy to help people off the street”.

The 12 Labour councillors at Westminster City Council, meanwhile, have already come out in joint opposition, releasing a statement which says: “Labour Councillors have condemned this hard-hearted and mean-minded action at a time of rising unemployment and increasing homelessness amongst the most vulnerable.”

More protests and direct action

Inspired by the multi-organisation flashmob demonstrations and the protest picnic held outside Westminster Cathedral on 20 March, campaigners have continued to take to the streets.

On 2 April, another horizontal flashmob, Everybody Lie Down In Westminster Day, took place on Westminster Cathedral Piazza; while on 14 April, campaigners gathered outside Westminster City Hall to take part in the Protest Against Benefits Cuts & Mass Food Give Away! Plans are also underway for events on the day of the council meeting and, possibly, to coincide with the Royal Wedding (tentatively entitled ‘Let Them Eat Cake’).

Online, meanwhile, Henrietta Still and Co from Goldsmiths College have produced a short film entitled the Big Soup Society (on Facebook), while Pavement photographer Rufus Exton’s film (youtube.com/user/pavementtv) documenting the 20 March protest has received more than 1,000 hits. Over on Twitter, the hashtag #homelessban is focusing support, while anti-byelaw Facebook groups and pages continue to attract fans.

Housing Justice is also still calling on Westminster residents to lobby their local councillors, and asking anyone doing a soup run to sign up to their newly updated Soup Run Code of Conduct.

Finding alternatives

As well as the Soup Run Code of Conduct, other practical alternatives to the byelaw are being put forward.

On the Labour Matters website (labourmatters.com), Labour councillors have outlined a three-point plan, which they say would enable soup runs to continue. Suggestions include a system of licensing/registration and regulation; Council-supported efforts to provide daily building-based alternatives; and a code of conduct.

Alastair Murray, deputy director of Housing Justice, has called on the council to make use of the knowledge and experience of soup run volunteers, and widen building-based provision, saying: “More hostels in Westminster could be opening up space in the evening, and they could be more supportive of the idea of indoor drop-in services open in the evening and at the weekend.

“If we can work out a timetable of doing that and really encourage soup runs to look at moving somewhere indoors in their local area or Westminster, then I think it would be very difficult for Westminster to say ‘well, we’re going to ban soup runs anyway’. Because we have to show some kind of willing and make an effort to do it together and improve services, and that has to be the way forward.” Westminster City Council has even showed signs of softening their approach, increasingly referring to a preference for a non-legislative approach and proposing in a press release dated 29 March to “meet with interested parties in the coming weeks to try and reach a solution before resorting to formal legal action”.

Rough sleeping ban proposal could be dropped

As it stands, the byelaw would criminalise rough sleepers and those distributing free refreshments in a designated area around Westminster Cathedral. However, there are suggestions that the council could be planning to remove the clause relating to lying down, sleeping or depositing bedding on the street.

Mr Murray reported: “They are saying… that they would be willing to meet and explore a non-legislative solution, but they seem to me to be fairly sure to be going ahead – at least with the anti-soup run bit. I think they’re going to drop the proposal to ban rough sleeping.

“I’ve heard this from a couple of different sources, but I think they’ve realised they’ve they have got no support whatsoever for that from any organisation… they don’t have support, from anybody in the field, so it looks as if they’re on pretty dodgy ground with that.”

Cllr Hug echoed this, saying: “My impression is that they may be more willing to move on rough sleeping because of the overwhelming opposition, . I mean obviously there clearly has been majority opposition to the soup run ban, but it’s [the rough sleeping ban] is not quite clear cut.”

Delays and doubts on the final decision

Westminster City Council is currently compiling some 500 responses that it received during the consultation, which ended on 25 March. A summary of the consultation will be made public in due course, although when is not yet known.

After the consultation document has been prepared, it will be up to Westminster City Council to decide whether or not to push ahead with the byelaw. And if it does, there’s little chance of it being taken down by Labour, predicts Cllr Hug: “My understanding is that it will go to full council. Although if I’m absolutely honest, if it goes to full council… , it will go through irrespective of what I say or what my colleagues say … Certainly, in my time (and I’ve only been on the council for a year ), I’ve never seen a vote.”

The decisive council meeting was expected to take place on 4 May. However, this now seems to have now been delayed. Mr Murray wrote to Councillor Daniel Astaire, cabinet member for society, families and adult services, offering to meet to help find a non-legislative solution. In response, said Mr Murray, “he [Cllr Astaire] told me they aren’t going to be voting on it on the 4th of May [but] it’s not going to be included in the council meeting then, and that he would be keen to meet.”

The Pavement contacted the Westminster City Council press office for confirmation, but on asking when the decision would be made the spokesperson replied: “Are you talking about… I saw something on Twitter from Housing Justice. Is that what you’re referring to?” and She said she didn’t believe there was a council meeting on 4 May (there is), and that no further details are yet available.

Looking back to a Westminster City Council press release from 28 February, however, the process is clearer: “Depending on the results [of the consultation, the council] will then to seek provisional permission from the Department for Communities and Local Government [DCLG] to pass a byelaw before taking it to a meeting of the full council in the summer.

“If approved, the byelaw could be in place by October. Vulnerable individuals will not be enforced against, and all individuals will be asked to leave the area before being subjected to any enforcement.” The next meeting of the full council after 4 May is on 20 July at Council House, Marylebone Road. The Public Law Project (PLP), a legal charity concerned with access to justice for disadvantaged groups, is advising campaigners on the possibility of legal challenge to the passing of the byelaw. PLP solicitor Jo Hickman confirmed that PLP had concerns as to the lawfulness of Westminster’s proposals and would be pleased to offer campaigners legal support.

Ms Hickman told The Pavement, “This unprecedented proposal seeks to criminalise acts of charity. If that were not bad enough, the proposed byelaw is so widely drafted it also criminalises a host of other entirely innocent activities. Councils are not lawfully empowered to pass byelaws that are oppressive, and as such we consider there may be grounds to seek judicial review of any decision to implement this proposal.”

We asked DCLG for their stand on the byelaw, but was just sent their previously released statement: “Local homeless charities and Westminster Council believe that food handouts actually encourage people to sleep rough in central London, with all the dangers that entails.

“There is no need for anyone to sleep rough in Westminster as there are a range of services that can help the vulnerable off the streets, and assist them make the first steps towards getting their lives back on track.”

Asked about the process for passing the byelaw, the spokesman replied, “If the byelaw were to be passed by the council, it would require DCLG Secretary of State’s confirmation before it could take effect. But we are still some way off that stage, if things ever get there.”

UPDATE 12/5/11: We have just received news that Westminster City Council has decided to drop its attempt to criminalise rough sleeping via its proposed byelaw. It has not given up on getting rid of soup runs, so we will continue to cover the story as it develops.

Homelessness

Who decides?

(The Pavement, 3 July 2010) If you’ve struggled with a drug or alcohol addiction, refused help from an outreach worker or had mental health problems, chances are you’ve been discussed at a Safer Streets partnership meeting. Also known as multi-agency meetings or Local Strategic Partnerships meetings, these gatherings take place in boroughs across London and are a chance for homeless service providers to get together and discuss how to help individual rough sleepers off the streets.

To give you an insight into what is decided at these meetings, we spoke to Sam Ball, deputy director for London of Crime Reduction Initiatives (CRI), the national social care charity which is commissioned by Camden Council to run Camden Safer Streets Team (SST).

Camden SST provides “street-based outreach work” in partnership with a number of key agencies:
• Hostel providers
• Drug/alcohol services
• Drug-intervention teams
• Police
• Mental health services
• Primary care services
• Local day centres
• Drop-in services
• Street wardens

Input is also provided by “Community Auditors” from StreetSafe, a Camden SST scheme through which, Mr Ball explained: “concerned members of the community can report on street activity directly to a single point of contact and are assured of a prompt and helpful response”.

Of these agencies, representatives from the Drug and Alcohol Agencies; Drug Intervention Programme; Police; Hostel Providers; Day Centres; Drop-in Services and Street Wardens attend regular meetings at Camden SST’s London regional office. These so-called “tasking and targeting meetings” take place every fortnight in King’s Cross, Holborn, Bloomsbury and Camden Town, with two additional monthly meetings for the north of the borough. Organised by Camden SST, each meeting is chaired by the team leader responsible for that area.

So what is the purpose of this type of partnership meeting, a format used by many local authorities? “It’s designed to allow coordination of a comprehensive and consistent care package for clients,” explains Mr Ball. “It includes both service interventions and enforcement interventions where appropriate.”

The implementation of these enforcement tactics, such as Anti Social Behaviour Orders (Asbos), is made clear by Camden Safer Street Team to homeless people in the borough, according to Mr Ball: “On initial contact we explain that street activity is considered anti-social behaviour and that continuation of that behaviour could lead to enforcement.

“We do it this way because we’re aware then that we’re able to give a clear, consistent and honest message to clients. Our aim is to enable people to break free from harmful patterns of behaviour, therefore reducing the impact of this on the individual and as well as on the community around them.”

A “care package” – also known as a service plan or care plan – is basically a way of identifying what support or services you need. “Decisions are made about which agencies need to be involved in a case,” explains Mr Ball. “In terms of hostels, for instance, each hostel has a specific designation, for instance those able to cater for individuals with mental health needs or those requiring continued-use placements”.

Rather than discussing budgets and homeless services in general, the meetings are focused on the “clients”. For Mr Ball, “it isn’t about funding, it doesn’t come down to that – it’s who is best placed to meet this client’s needs. That’s very much the focus of those meetings.”

So deciding, for example, increased funding for drug and alcohol rehabilitation is not on the agenda. “That’s kind of out of our hands,” Mr Ball explains. “We might request and advocate for that on behalf of the client if we felt they needed that but we wouldn’t be able to make that decision.”

According to a street count carried out on 22 April 2009, Camden has just six rough sleepers. However, statutory homelessness figures for January-March 2010 (Supplementary tables – Local Authority Breakdown – Statutory Homelessness: 1st Quarter (January to March) 2010, England) identify 668 people in temporary accommodation in Camden, plus 88 instances where duty of care is owed but accommodation has not yet been secured.

With such a fluid homeless population, the partnership selects particular people to discuss at each meeting. “We wouldn’t necessarily go through every single client known to Camden Safer Streets Team because, as you know, there can be a changing picture and we want to prioritise in terms of need … to make sure people get the right level of input in a timely manner,” Mr Ball adds.

After the meeting, the next step is to offer targeted support to clients. “Obviously we’d want to agree a care plan with the client so … if we or the client were to identify that actually they might benefit from, [for example], a mental health service then we’d look to do what we can to support them to engage with that service and get that service involved.”

Although Camden SST has a contract with Camden Council, they are not required to give the council an exhaustive account of every meeting. “We wouldn’t report back, naturally,” says Mr Ball. “But, as with any service provision, our communication with the council happens along the lines with which they commission us, so we have an ongoing communication with Camden Council.”

http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=1053

Homelessness

Iceland accused of bleaching waste food

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(The Pavement, 5 May 2010) Staff at Iceland’s store in Bridlington have been accused of pouring bleach on waste food to deter homeless people and ‘freegans’ from eating it.

Local homeless people whom he met while researching a system to distribute food to the home- less first reported the allegations to Councillor Liam Dealtry. The former mayor of Bridlington told the Daily Telegraph: “I was mortified. They said Iceland staff had been pouring bleach and the blue toilet cleaner onto the food they would normally eat.”

The frozen food firm’s marketing director, Nick Canning, responded saying: “One of our store staff suggested to one of the freegans [people who take unwanted food] not to do it because it might have been treated with chemicals… It has never been and it wasn’t actually done.” Tania Barry, a spokeswoman for Iceland, told The Pavement: “it is not Iceland’s policy to tamper with our waste products in any way. Our waste in the Bridlington store has never been treated, and it is outside company policy to even suggest this may be the case. Our staff are not encouraged to tell people that food has been covered in bleach or tampered with in anyway.”

She added: “We are not allowed to sell any chilled products past their use-by date and it is company policy not to offer any out-of-date food to charitable causes and the suchlike as we can’t guarantee it will be suitable for human consumption.”

Mr Dealtry has now pledged to write to local shops and hotels to encourage them to donate food. He has also called for the council to set up a taskforce to help homeless people in the area.

http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=1000

Homelessness

Rough count

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(The Pavement, 2 April 2010) The Pavement did its own ‘street count’ using a calculator and a telephone

According to government statistics, there were 464 rough sleepers in England in 2009. But how does this figure compare to the number of rough sleepers counted by cold weather shelters? The Pavement decided to find out.

The figure of 464 was quoted by Dudley North MP Ian Austin, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing, in response to a written question from Slough MP Fiona Mactaggart. It is based on local authority street counts. Official figures from the same period – June 2009 – claim that 263 of these were in London and, of these, 110 were in Westminster.

To provide a comparison, The Pavement contacted every cold weather shelter in London, using Homeless Link’s Winter Shelters 2009-2010 list. We asked each how many people stayed there on the night of 13 January 2010.

Cold weather shelters, as readers will know, provide temporary shelter to rough sleepers during extreme winter weather. By finding out how many people stayed in every winter shelter in London on one night, we can get an idea of how many people would have otherwise been on the streets.

Here are the results:

Barnet Churches Winter Shelter: 14
Community of Camden Churches Cold Weather Shelter: 14
Croydon Churches Floating Shelter: 14
Hackney Winter Night Shelter: 25
West London Churches Night Shelter: 49
Haringey Churches Winter Shelter: 12
Caris Islington Churches Cold Weather Shelter: 16
Kingston Winter Night Shelter: 13
The Robes Project: 13
Bromley Winter Shelter: 14
St Mungo’s Severe Weather Emergency Provision in London: 114
999 Club Winter Shelter: 17
Route 18 Winter Shelter: 6
Hillingdon Winter Shelter: 3
Waltham Forest Emergency Churches Night Shelter: 24

The total is 348; a massive 75 per cent of the government’s estimate for the amount of rough sleepers in England, and nearly 100 more than the official figure for London. If we subtract our London total from the government’s total for England, we are left with just 116 as a an approximate figure for the number of rough sleepers in England outside of London.

Even allowing for the general fluctuating nature of rough sleeper statistics and differences in date, it suggests there are more rough sleepers than government statistics suggest.

This is a story we’ll be following up, and getting an official response to, for next month. As we go to press, the Simon Community, Housing Justice and the Sock Mob will be conducting a street count prior to the official count.

http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=971

Homelessness

Food Not Bombs

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(The Pavement, 4 March 2010) When someone mentions free food, most of us think of a soup kitchen – perhaps a church group quietly serving cups of steaming tea. We don’t think of one of the top terrorist groups in America, yet this is the title that has been applied to Food Not Bombs, a global movement with two peaceable aims: to give food to the hungry; and to protest against war, poverty and injustice.

The first Food Not Bombs group was formed in 1980 by eight antinuclear activists in Massachusetts. Since then, the concept has spread across the globe, throughout the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and the Middle East. There is no ‘top-down’ organisation; each group is created autonomously and simply adopts the Food Not Bombs title and consensus-based structure. Their only other unifying characteristic is that they always serve vegetarian or vegan meals, cooked using unwanted food collected from local groceries, markets and health food shops.

In January, one of the founders of the first Food Not Bombs group, Keith McHenry, gave a talk at the London Action Resource Centre as part of a world tour to mark the 30th anniversary of Food Not Bombs. Following a letter about the talk in our last issue, The Pavement went to McHenry’s second London appearance at Housing Justice’s offices in February, where we caught up with him for a chat.

Other projects
As well as sharing food with homeless people, Food Not Bombs volunteers can often be found feeding protestors at demonstrations against everything from the war in Iraq to globalisation. With their strong organisational skills and ability to respond quickly to unpredictable situations, some groups have even become unofficial emergency food providers. Food Not Bombs groups, for example, were the first to serve hot meals to the rescue workers at the World Trade Center attacks in 2001, and the first to provide food and help to survivors of Hurricane Katrina and the Indian Ocean tsunami.

There are spin-off campaigns, too, such as Bikes Not Bombs; Homes Not Jails; the community gardens project Food Not Lawns; and Really Really Free Markets, where nothing is ‘for sale’.

The main function of Homes Not Jails is to house homeless people in unused buildings. The project began in San Francisco in response to a persistent campaign to move on homeless people by the city’s police and mayor during which the belongings of some local homeless people were reported to have been destroyed and their pets put down. In protest, the San Francisco ‘chapter’ of Food Not Bombs provided food to the homeless – for which they were arrested, collectively more than 1,000 times – and began taking over empty properties. In the end, Homes Not Jails had keys to over 400 houses, and housed people in over half of them.

From San Francisco, Homes Not Jails spread, but only as far as Toronto, Boston, Baltimore and Washington DC. Why wasn’t it as successful? “I think it’s just more complex than cooking,” explains McHenry.

“It’s kind of harder to get into a building and fix it up, and I think the laws are more severe. In America, you can get [convicted of] trespassing, which could be a year or two of prison, so it’s a little more scary. Although, we’ve had nobody convicted – we’ve been arrested, but no one’s been convicted”.

However, despite a slow start, Homes Not Jails is now gaining renewed interest and, according to McHenry, several communist and socialist groups are creating similar projects in an effort to re-house people recently evicted from their homes.

“Sometimes we’ve done actions where we take over buildings [where] you’ll freeze to death if you actually stayed in them, but they’re symbolic buildings. Once, we took over these houses on a military base because there was a law that they had to give you the house if you were working for a non-profit group, that kind of thing.

“It’s much more powerful to talk about how society should be changed while actually implementing changes through direct action than it is to talk about ‘oh, wouldn’t it be great if sometime something happened that was better’. I think that makes a big difference.”

Food and politics
Food Not Bombs calls itself a movement, not a charity, a distinction that separates it from soup kitchens with no agenda other than to serve food. “We’re trying to make a point that we think the way society’s organised is just not right,” says McHenry. “That no one should really be homeless and there’s no reason for people to be homeless except for the need for economic exploitation.”

This political, grassroots philosophy often ruffles feathers – and not just those of the police: “Sometimes the government tries to get Food Not Bombs groups to become charities and says ‘oh, just don’t have the literature and banner, and then you can serve the food'”.

Occasionally the authorities go even further. McHenry describes a US policy called Weed and Seed in which food donations will be withheld if a population is not “cooperating”. This could include getting people to move out of an area so it can be gentrified. “They will say ‘we’ll give you food if you do what we say and we will not give you any food if you don’t do what we say'”, McHenry explains.

Even charities, including UK-based ones, try to get Food Not Bombs to change its agenda or name. “They often approach us and say ‘oh, you’ve got to change your name’, we can’t work with you unless you change your name'”.

Food for thought
During the Q&A session after the Housing Justice talk, McHenry defended soup kitchens, which have been criticised by some UK individuals and organisations in recent years: “if people are not spending their energy trying to find food, and struggling and starving, they have more freedom to come up with other ideas of things to do.

“And the message of just giving out free stuff is pretty dramatic, which is one of the reasons why we have a policy of giving it to anybody – whether they’re rich or poor, drunk or sober. Because in a capitalist system, free stuff kind of destabilises people’s image of what’s happening.”

However, for McHenry, giving free food is not enough – there also has to be a political message, most importantly to drive social change, but also to balance the often unequal relationship between giver and receiver. Having been homeless five times himself (and still struggling with housing troubles now), McHenry is well aware of this divide: “In America, I always felt the way that most charities treat homeless people is like they’re above the homeless… they try to make you feel like you should be really appreciative of it and that you’re kind of maybe retarded or stupid or something and that’s why you’re homeless.”

In fact, sleeping rough has made McHenry more determined and given him “a good impression of how painful it is to be homeless”. It’s also, he says, why he’s so dedicated to Food Not Bombs being a force for social change: “I don’t want to spend my days working so that everybody gets to be in a soup line – I want to spend my days working so that no one has to go to a soup line and everyone has a warm place to go to sleep.”

Could this happen by 2012, as so many are promising?

“I think we could end homelessness by 2012,” says McHenry, “but it’s going to take total undying dedication to ending capitalism, and it seems to be going to opposite direction currently. “We have to get to a point where either we have made it so uncomfortable for the owners of property that they decide ‘OK, surplus property is illegal and we’re going to just let people live in it’ or some major shifts of consciousness happen. And in America, actually that is happening… People who were diehard capitalist Republicans have lost their homes and are now seeing that maybe this political and economic system is not realistic.”

This economic system, in which a huge proportion of the budget is spent on defence, is a key bone of contention for McHenry and, as its name suggests, for Food Not Bombs as a whole – particularly in the US, and here in the UK where the defence budget is set to increase from £32.6 billion in 2007/08 to £36.9 billion in 2010/11.

The role of Food Not Bombs, therefore, is to provide “a foundation of how to work together, how to make decisions together by consensus and how to work cooperatively to directly solve problems like hunger, homelessness, transportation, energy, healthcare – things like that”.

Getting involved
Food Not Bombs is growing all the time and the creation of new groups is always encouraged. For a guide to setting up a chapter in your area, visit www.foodnotbombs.net and read the ‘Seven Steps to Organising a Local Food Not Bombs‘.

There are groups across England, in Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Exeter, Leicester, Lancaster, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, Sheffield and York. In London, the Brixton and Whitechapel Food Not Bombs groups have now combined under one Hackney chapter and can be contacted at londonfnb@lists.riseup.net.

http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=937

Homelessness

Still a big problem

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(The Pavement, 4 March 2010) An Emmaus companion was discharged from Guy’s and St Thomas’s hospital, London, wearing a pair of pyjama bottoms, prompting fresh concern about the aftercare of homeless patients.

Harry Dixon, 48, said he was “really embarrassed” as he waited at Victoria Coach Station for over six hours to catch a coach back to Bolton.

Mr Dixon had come to London to volunteer with Crisis at Christmas, as he has done for the past 15 years. On New Year’s Eve, he was out in Leicester Square when someone poured a drink over him.

As he chased the man around the corner, Mr Dixon was attacked with a champagne bottle. “I got whacked in the face and the next thing I know I was on the floor, in a pool of blood,” he told The Pavement.

At Guy’s and St Thomas’s NHS Trust, the police took Mr Dixon’s clothes for forensic testing, leaving him with nothing to wear, as his luggage had also been stolen during the attack. When he was discharged on 6 January, hospital staff provided a shirt, jumper, jacket, shoes and pair of underpants. Although he says they tried their best, the staff could only find pyjama bottoms to replace his trousers.

At Mr Dixon’s request, the hospital called a taxi to take him to St Martin-in-the-Fields, but by the time the taxi arrived, it was already too late for him to get into The Connection day centre. St Martin’s referred him to Charing Cross Police Station, where he secured a travel permit to return to Bolton.

“I was sitting round Victoria from 5pm till 11.30pm in pyjama bottoms,” Mr Dixon said. “I tried to keep away from the doors because obviously it was too cold. Everyone kept looking at me… I felt like I was from a mental hospital because all I had was a carrier bag”.

What about the guidelines?

Back in December 2006, Homeless Link and the London Network for Nurses and Midwives released a set of guidelines for discharging homeless patients from hospital, as reported in The Pavement (Issue 32, London edition, June 2008).

Issued in partnership with Communities for Local Government (CLG) and the Department of Health (DH), the guidelines stated “safe discharge is the duty of the hospital trust”, citing the need for hospitals to work in partnership with local authority housing departments, social services and voluntary groups working with homeless people.

According to Alice Evans, head of policy analysis at Homeless Link, the guidelines were sent out to all their members, and the DH included links to it in their mailings to NHS hospitals and Primary Care Trusts (PCTs). The guidelines have not been redistributed since, though Ms Evans said Homeless Link have continued to promote them.

Although not legally enforceable, the guidelines were intended to educate hospital staff on dealing with homeless patients, covering subjects such as ensuring the patient does not lose their space in a hostel or contacting their key worker. Provision of clothing, however, is not mentioned.

“We haven’t been prescriptive in the guidance,” explained Ms Evans. “It’s saying to each hospital you need to think about what is suitable for you… [Homeless patients] need to have appropriate clothing whether that’s the hospital’s responsibility or the hospital liaises with the day centre, who may have the clothing that they can provide.”

For Guy’s and St Thomas’s, the issue of lack of clothing is apparent in a public appeal on their website which reads: “Washed clothing is urgently needed for patients admitted who are either homeless, have had their own clothes cut off, or who have been brought to the department in their nightwear. These patients often have no-one to bring in their own clothing from home, so the donated clothing helps make sure that everyone leaves the hospital with dignity.”

Despite the guidelines having been available for more than three years, in the interim findings of Homeless Link’s Health Audit, published in October last year, only three out of the 17 respondents admitted to hospital were helped with their housing before being discharged.

“There is more work to be done around getting the guidance adopted and implemented by hospitals,” Ms Evans conceded. “There is movement across the country, but it’s sporadic in terms of what’s happening.”

Defending Homeless Link, she added: “We have limited resources… it’s a long process getting [a hospital protocol] set up because of the number of different partners involved in it.” In response to the slow take-up, Ms Evans said Homeless Link was “thinking ourselves what more we can do around promoting the guidance and encouraging uptake”. Yet she could not yet provide any specific examples of what this action might be.

“We’re just talking, we’re starting to think about it,” said Ms Evans, instead highlighting the Health Needs Audit and the hospital discharge case studies it was commissioned to conduct by the Housing Learning and Improvement Network.

“We have [also] promoted West Sussex short-term housing provision for people when released from hospital who are waiting for appropriate accommodation and are temporarily housed by an RSL [Registered Social Landlord] in disabled-access flats. We were also involved in evidencing and getting set up an innovative intermediate care provision for homeless people, which has now been set up with a hostel in Lambeth.”

Ironically, Guy’s and St Thomas’s NHS Trust is seen as a beacon of excellence when it comes to homeless hospital discharge. Communications manager Malcolm Bennie told The Pavement the hospital was aware of Homeless Link’s guidelines and follows them. It also has its own protocol and, for the past two years, a dedicated homeless patients’ discharge coordinator. This role, Mr Bennie said, is “primarily for supporting patients who are in acute hospital beds and to facilitate and support discharge. However, the person is also available if there are problems for patients who attend A&E, but a number of homeless patients do attend A&E out of hours.”

Mr Dixon requested to see the homeless coordinator during his time at Guy’s and St Thomas’s and told The Pavement: “He tried his best… I wanted to go to Winchester [at the time] but that never happened.”

As well as a homeless-patient coordinator, the hospital also has use of the Simon Patient Hotel, which offers bed and board and a minimal amount of personal care for patients who are unable to return home when they are well enough to leave the ward. Patients can stay in the NHS-funded facility for between one day and six weeks.

Although Mr Bennie was unable to talk to The Pavement about Mr Dixon’s case, he said, “Each patient is assessed on an individual basis for discharge requirements, including pre-paid transport… If required, we will attempt to contact a homeless person’s keyworker. This will depend on the time of day and the individual patient’s requirements.”

The next step

While Homeless Link thinks about its next step, other organisations are making homeless discharge a priority issue.

In the summary to its 2008 Health Strategy, St Mungo’s has pledged to “press for every resident discharged from hospital to have an appropriate treatment plan with follow up” and to set up a pilot “hospital at home” project. In January 2009, it implemented this through the launch of The Intermediate Care Pilot Project at its Cedars Road hostel, which aims to ease discharges from hospital and provide key health and medical care for its clients. A report on the project is due to be released this April.

In terms of governmental response, the CLG publication No One Left Out: communities ending rough sleeping reported in November last year that “recommendations have been made to NHS London – through the London Delivery Board – for the establishment of Homeless Ward Rounds to prevent people leaving hospital with nowhere to go.”

The Pavement contacted Daniel Pople in the NHS London communications team to find out whether these “homeless ward rounds” have been implemented, and to ask how many homeless patient discharge coordinators there are in London, but at the time of printing still had not received a reply.

However, according to Ms Evans, the London Delivery Board is making homeless hospital discharge a priority. “Over the next few months, the Board’s Health Subgroup will lead a project working with London hospitals, supporting them to ensure that rough sleepers are discharged in a planned manner that takes them off the streets,” she explained.

http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=938

Homelessness

Homeless man’s body stolen for WWII plot

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(The Pavement, 4 February 2010) The body of a homeless Welshman was illegally used in a British plot to deceive the Nazis during World War II, it was recently revealed.

Glyndwr Michael’s corpse was dumped in the sea off the Spanish coast, in 1943, carrying fake secret documents outlining plans to switch the British invasion of Sicily to Greece.

The plot, known as Operation Mincemeat, was “swallowed rod, line and sinker” (a telegram to Churchill triumphantly reported) and Hitler moved his troops to Greece.

Speculation as to the identity of the body has followed over the years. However, a government cover-up meant Mr Michael’s name was concealed until 1996, when files on Operation Mincemeat were declassified.

Even then, it was not until Professor Denis Smyth, a historian at Toronto University, came across a “secret” memo written by Mincemeat’s chief conspirator, Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu, that the truth finally came to light.

Mr Michael had been found in an abandoned warehouse near King’s Cross on 26 January, 1943. He was suffering from acute chemical poisoning, having ingested rat poison, and died two days later.

Times journalist Ben Macintyre has also uncovered a disturbing chain of events behind the celebrated plot, which formed the basis for the 1956 film The Man Who Never Was. Montague had previously claimed that the dead man’s relatives had given their permission for the body to be used “for a really worthwhile purpose” on the condition his identity was never revealed. However, Mr Macintyre discovered this paperwork had been falsified by Sir Bentley Purchase, the coroner of St Pancras, and no attempt had been made to contact Mr Michael’s family.

Sir Purchase also failed to carry out a post mortem examination, identified Michael as a suicidal labourer of no fixed abode and a “lunatic”, and informed the registrar that the body was being “removed out of England” for burial. However, he had secretly agreed to keep the corpse in cold storage until it was needed.

This is not the first time a homeless body has been used without the relatives’ permission. In 2004, a Siberian pathologist was reported to have sent the corpses of homeless people to German anatomist Günther von Hagens, the man behind the recent Body Worlds exhibitions.

http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=919

Homelessness

Street Heat

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(The Pavement, 4 February 2010) Celebrities love to do (or be seen doing) their bit for homeless people – bar Jonathan Creek star Alan Davies, who bit a homeless man instead. In honour of their selfless deeds, we’ve collected a number of stars that have made the news for helping our readers over the festive season.

Not one known to gush, Hollywood hard-man Russell Crowe proved he was a softie at heart when he gave his winter coat to a homeless fan, known as Radio Man, who had cycled to Pittsburgh just to see Crowe on set filming The Next Three Days. The coat in question was a grey, downy number with a fur hood. Good job Radio Man’s favourite actor isn’t Sex And The City clothes horse Sarah Jessica Parker.

Russell Crowe’s coat pales into insignificance, however, in comparison to the generous gifts of the French first lady, Carla Bruni, who has struck up a friendship with a homeless man living near in her Paris home. Denis, 53, said Ms Bruni regularly hands over €50 or €100 notes, and the pair discuss books and music. The 41-year-old ex-model has also given her neighbour a military-style duvet and offered to put him up in a hotel, an offer he turned down. “It’s not that I enjoy being in the street, but I’ve got my habits,” Denis told reporters. “People say it’s cold. That’s true, but I’m well covered up.” It’s also a good excuse to use when his new friend asks if he’s listened to her latest album.

Rather than handing out CDs, living music legend Bob Dylan is donating the sales of his latest musical offering to homelessness. In the festive spirit (or possibly after one too many festive spirits), the grizzled singer-songwriter recorded an album of traditional Yuletide favourites entitled Christmas In The Heart. Released on October 12, the royalties go towards Crisis UK and the World Food Programme. Bob Dylan rocking out ‘Here Comes Santa Claus’? The times they are a-changing.

But first prize goes to fashion oddball Lady Gaga, who last year raised US$35,000 for a Toronto shelter, toured youth shelter Eva’s Phoenix and dished out free concert tickets to young volunteers as part of Virgin Mobile’s RE*Generation campaign to help homeless youngsters in the US. “If I can be inspiring to them and be a part of it, that makes me feel more powerful than any of the stage drama or the flashing lights,” gushed the Paparazzi star.

http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=924

Homelessness

A fresh approach

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(The Pavement, 1 October 2009) You might have walked past an Emmaus shop and wondered what lay behind the pale green sign with the emblem of a dove holding a flower. It may look and sound like a religious organisation, but Emmaus is a secular charity with a simple aim: to “give homeless people a bed… and a reason to get out of it”.

While most homeless charities focus on one need – be it providing jobs, housing or food – Emmaus offers all three. Its members (known as ‘companions’) live, work and eat together in small, self-sufficient communities. There are 19 groups in the UK, everywhere from Glasgow to Brighton, plus branches in 36 countries around the world.

The pioneering charity was founded 60 years ago in Paris by Father Henri-Antoine Groues, better known as Abb?© Pierre – a Catholic priest, MP and former member of the French Resistance. One night, he was introduced to a homeless man named Georges who had tried to commit suicide in the river Seine after being released from prison after 20 years, only to find his family could not cope with his return. Abbé Pierre asked Georges to help him, and together they set about building temporary homes, initially in é Pierre’s own garden, for people living on the streets of Paris. Later, Georges said: “Whatever else he might have given me – money, home, somewhere to work – I’d still have tried to kill myself again. What I was missing, and what he offered, was something to live for”.

As more companions joined, they decided to raise money by becoming “rag pickers”, collecting and selling things people no longer wanted. The same principle is used today, with Emmaus shops selling second-hand items donated by the local community. As well as providing a constant source of funds, this has gained new significance as the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ mantra gathers pace.

In the last issue of The Pavement, we published a letter from the new general manager of Emmaus South Lambeth (ESL), James Hayes, in which he told readers about the spaces up for grabs at ESL. Despite some high-profile supporters (Terry Waite is the Emmaus UK president, and ESL alone has been visited by celebrity chef Antonio Carluccio, Joanna Lumley, Jerry Hall and MOBO award-winner YolanDa Brown), Emmaus is still relatively unknown. This means that although it has 25 en-suite rooms, ESL currently has (at time of going to press) just 18 companions – 15 men and three women, with an age range of 23 to 63. However, it’s unlikely the rooms will stay empty for long – and just as well, since ESL will need plenty of help when its new furniture and electrical superstore opens this month.

Construction of the Beadman Street store, part funded by the Emmaus UK Federation Office with a small donation from Lambeth Council, has cost £753,000. It is a sizeable chunk of money, but it is hoped that the new addition will bring fresh opportunities for the companions.

The electrical shop currently squeezes in a selection of giant TVs, small electrical appliances and – somewhat bizarrely – a motorised scooter. The new store will allow space for larger white goods, such as washing machines and dishwashers. One level of the two-storey development has been earmarked for use as a workshop, where companions will be able to do furniture restoration and PAT Testing on electricals.

Like many workplaces, a typical day at ESL begins with a staff meeting. Ideas are shared, grievances aired and jobs allocated, before everyone heads off to their respective posts. As a new arrival to ESL, James was impressed with the enthusiasm of the companions: “they’ve got strong points of view; they really care and have so much passion.”

As well as frontline work in the furniture superstore and bric-a-brac and electrical shops, the companions have plenty of behind-the-scenes work to do. Furniture donations have to be collected and purchases delivered, while all new stock must be sorted, cleaned and priced. Electrical items are also safety checked by one of the four companions trained in PAT testing.

Over in the kitchen, the chefs prepare three square meals each day for their fellow companions, using ingredients grown on ESL’s own allotment when they can. And at 5pm, after a hard day’s work, the group gather at the large wooden tables for dinner before spending the evening as they please, whether that’s at the local gym, watching TV in their room or relaxing in the comfortable communal room, with its separate TV, board game and computer areas.

The few house rules include no drugs or alcohol, no pets and no smoking in common areas. Although companions do not sign on while working with Emmaus, they continue to collect housing benefit, which goes towards funding the shops. As well as full board, companions receive a weekly allowance of £33 and a one-week holiday every three months, plus £100 and £50 for travel. An additional £5 per week is saved on behalf of each companion so that by the time they decide to move on, they have a tidy sum saved up.

There’s no time limit on how long companions can stay. “Some see it as a temporary measure to keep their CV up to date,” says James. “Others see Emmaus as their way of life and might stay five, 10 even 20 years”. The companions gain confidence, experience and skills on the job. In addition, they can attend workshops and courses in everything from food hygiene to computing and carpentry at Lambeth College. Many also bring skills from previous employment or life experience, which – combined with the help of ESL’s dedicated volunteers – makes for a rich talent pool.

Personal support is provided by a counsellor who comes once a week and a monthly support plan gives companions a chance to raise any issues, get advice and plan their next step. Additional support and guidance is provided by the two deputy community leaders, plus the four ESL companions have taken on extra responsibilities as ‚Äòcompanion assistants’.

And the inspiring principles of Abb?© Pierre remain at the heart of everything Emmaus does: acceptance, sharing, working for others in greater need and self-respect. Like Georges, companions today recognise that a reason to live is the best thing anyone can give you. ESL is holding a benefit gig at the Windmill in Brixton on 17th October, entry ¬£5.

http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=817

Homelessness

Shelter report: shocking claims on gatekeeping

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(The Pavement, 25 September 2009) Local authorities are encouraging hostels to dissuade applications and not to document rejections for temporary housing in a practise known within the industry as ‘gatekeeping’, a leaked document sent to this magazine has revealed.

The report claims gatekeeping not only “prevents people from exercising their legal rights and denies them the opportunity to resolve their homelessness”but also distorts official statistics. “If no application is taken, then there is no record of the household having approached the local authority,”the report said. The law states that local authorities have an obligation to take a homeless application from anyone they believe may be homeless or threatened with homelessness, and that they are under a duty to accommodate while they make inquiries. It also says a formal written decision, which carries with it a right of review, must be written.

However, the report, which originated from Shelter, highlights a number of cases where local authorities had prevented or actively discouraged people from applying as homeless. One way of discouraging applications was to insist on excessive amounts of documentation before providing assistance. The report cites research which found in 2005 that “initial filtering procedures”were deterring young people from making a complete application or giving full information. People had complained of waiting for up to a day to receive an interview, or simply being given information leaflets rather than speaking to someone. They were also asked to produce difficult to obtain written information, such letters from were they had been staying previously to prove they could no longer live there.

Shelter’s report highlighted 50 cases from across the country. Requests were even made of those who had suffered domestic violence or relationship breakdown, with one woman fleeing violence being told she was intentionally homeless because she had not reported the violence to the police. Refusing applications on the basis of a lack of “local connection”was another practise found, despite the local authorities having a legal obligation to assist before any referral can be made to another area; other vulnerable would-be applicants were found to have been placed on a general housing waiting list.

Many applicants were given on-the-spot verbal decisions that they did not qualify, making challenging the decision harder. This is not the first time gatekeeping has come to public attention. In 2005, a survey for Shelter’s national magazine Roof found that 63 per cent of council staff, out of 60 local authorities contacted, felt pressured to bend the rules to reduce the numbers of people they accepted as homeless. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister was at the time reported as responding: “Suggestions that this is about avoiding helping people are completely wrong…We have not seen any substantial evidence that this is happening and reject findings of this survey.” However, in 2006, the then Minister for Housing and Planning, Yvette Cooper, wrote an open letter to local authorities advising against the practise, saying that: “I do want to see continued reductions in homelessness numbers, but that must be achieved through more effective help, not as a result of a ‘gatekeeping’ approach…It is critical that vulnerable households should not be denied the assistance they need.”

Despite having been written in September 2005, the Shelter report remains unpublished over two years later. A spokesperson for the charity told The Pavement: “The document… was intended for internal use rather than publication. We have various reports, which are more of a collation of information passed to us in the communications, policy and campaigns department from people in our services reporting trends or problems so we can decide on the best way to try and solve them.” However, in a letter accompanying the report sent to The Pavement, an anonymous employee suggested Shelter’s response has been purposely “low profile.” The covering letter also added: “These practices, as the report evidences, are not isolated but endemic and nothing less than an abuse of some of the most vulnerable groups in our society… This is the territory where Shelter should be taking central and local government head on.”

Shelter’s chief executive Adam Sampson said: “Where it is apparent that gatekeeping is taking place, Shelter is working with the government and with local authorities both publicly and behind the scenes to tackle the problem and ensure homeless people have access to the help they need. “Shelter’s policy and campaigning work is not influenced or compromised by government contracts.”

http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=373

Homelessness

The Mayor’s year

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(The Pavement, 11 June 2009) This month marks the one-year anniversary of Boris Johnson’s time as Mayor of London. So what has he achieved? We look at what the Mayor has done to improve housing in London – and if he’s followed through on his key election promises.

AFFORDABLE HOMES PLEDGE:Work with the boroughs to build 50,000 more affordable homes by 2011 Action: Mr Johnson has gone back on his election pledge, changing 50,000 new homes to 50,000 more affordable homes. Empty homes that have been brought back into use, for example, could now be counted. Even the 50,000 target is looking shaky, with the Evening Standard reporting that Mr Johnson has admitted the recession could make the goal difficult to meet. Mr Johnson has also scrapped the obligation on local councils to guarantee that at least 50 per cent of their new housing will be affordable. Instead, individual targets are being decided with each borough.
RESPONSE: Adam Sampson, outgoing chief executive of Shelter, said in the Guardian (20th January 2009): “The inevitable result of this will be that boroughs will proceed to play pass the parcel with affordable housing supply, each arguing that while they support the overall target, they themselves should be exempt from it”.

SOCIAL HOUSING ACTION:Mr Johnson has shifted resources from social housing to ‘intermediate’ housing (eg, home ownership schemes). Previously the allocation was 70:30 in favour of social housing; now it is 60:40. RESPONSE: Jenny Jones, Green Party Assembly Member (20th November 2008): “By shifting the focus away from social rented housing and onto homes for middle income earners, the Mayor is cutting support for those in greatest need”.

EMPTY HOMES PLEDGE: Invest ¬£60m from the Regional Housing Pot to start renovating the capital’s 84,205 empty properties to help lowincome Londoners off waiting lists.
ACTION: The Draft Housing Strategy has allocated £60m of the Targeted Funding Stream to bring empty homes back into use. It pledges that no more than one per cent of homes should stand empty and unused for over six months and there should be no financial incentives to leaving homes empty. An audit of derelict abandoned homes will also be undertaken.

GETTING ON THE PROPERTY LADDER
PLEDGE 1: Release GLA-owned land and ¬£130m from the Regional Housing Pot to launch a new ‘First Steps Housing Scheme’, which will be open to first-time buyers frozen out of Government schemes.
PLEDGE 2: Increase shared ownership schemes for low-income families by a third.
ACTION: The Draft Housing strategy outlines plans to increase opportunities for low-cost home ownership by a third. As promised, ¬£130m will be earmarked to start the First Steps housing programme. Controversially the maximum household income of those eligible for discounted and low cost homes has been raised to ¬£72,000. RESPONSE: Rob Williams in the Guardian (22nd November 2008): “Quite frankly, if housing is so expensive that an income of ¬£72,000 cannot get someone on the “property ladder” then it is clear that prices must come down to earth.”

SPACE AND OVERCROWDING
PLEDGE: Work with local councils to deliver more family-sized homes.
ACTION: The Draft Housing Strategy aims that 42 per cent of social rented and 16 per cent of intermediate homes should have three bedrooms or more. The increase in overcrowding in the social rented sector should cease by 2012, the paper adds.

SECURITY AND PROTECTION FOR PRIVATE TENANTS
PLEDGE 1: Protect private tenants from unscrupulous landlords by publishing an online ‘Fair Rents Guide’. PLEDGE 2: Explore the possibility of a tenant deposit scheme with a guaranteed arbitration period of one month. ACTION: The Draft Housing Strategy outlines plans to set up the London Rents Map, a web-based guide giving details of rent sin the capital, and to raise awareness among tenants and landlords or Tenancy Deposit Schemes. However, no new tenancy deposit schemes are mentioned other than those that have been mandatory since April 2007 for all new and renewed tenancies with rents of up to ¬£25,000 a year. We will be interviewing Boris Johnson in a forthcoming issue.

http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=740

Homelessness

A strong alliance

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(The Pavement, 23 May 2009) There is a new motto for London-based Veterans Aid and Edinburgh- based Scottish Veterans’ Residences (SVR), which together have formed a unique alliance: two heads are better than one.

Both charities offer assistance to ex-service men and women who are homeless, at risk of becoming homeless or in need. Yet while SVR concentrates on providing independent living accommodation, Veterans Aid offers more immediate relief to street homeless. “We’re the A&E unit for the veteran community,” Veterans Aid chief executive, Dr Milroy, concludes.

The new partnership will involve sharing expertise and resources and breaking down “territorial boundaries” to provide a more efficient, linked-up service. “What we both agree on is that we don’t need to build new warehouses for human beings,” says Dr Milroy. “What we do need to do is use what we’re doing better.” SVR chief executive Lt Col Ian Ballantyne adds: “Forming [such] alliances‚Ķ can only increase the accessibility to and provision of help that our ex-service men and women need and so richly deserve”.

The veteran community in the UK is said to number around 10 million, so it is perhaps inevitable that a percentage will face homelessness at some point in their lives. However, there are many charities and organisations dedicated to helping those who have served their country. Dr Milroy is optimistic about the volume of care dedicated to this section of society. “If you’re homeless and a veteran, you’re in a much stronger position than you’d be in if you weren’t,” he says.

While only just formalised, the alliance between the two groups has long proved beneficial. One veteran helped along the way is Jock, 43, who served in the Black Watch for four-and-a-half years. Following a car accident, Jock suffered a nervous breakdown, his previously successful business failed and his relationship ended. He was then evicted and forced to sleep rough in London for six months. Finally, severely depressed and suicidal, he contacted the charity Borderline, which helps homeless Scots in London, who put him on to Veterans Aid. As he was keen to leave London, Jock accepted Veterans Aid’s offer of a place at SVR’s Whitefoord House in Edinburgh and within 10 days had moved in. Nine months on, Jock was back on his feet, a change he attributes to Whitefoord’s staff and residents. “They helped me to get back my self-esteem just by being able to talk to people who understood,” he says. “Arriving at SVR was like going back to a family”.

Veterans Aid has been offering advice, support and facilities to ex-servicemen and women since 1932. Previously known as The Ex-Service Fellowship Centre, the charity changed its name to Veterans Aid in 2007 (see The Pavement Issue 26). While the profile of the charity nationally and internationally has soared in recent times and the services have expanded to deal with homelessness prevention as well as emergency assistance, the ethos of immediate response and non-judgemental assistance is as strong as ever. “It’s veteran helping veteran,” says Dr Milroy. “That’s really important because it sets them apart and says you’re part of the military family, and we’ll try to do something for you.”

The importance Veterans Aid puts on dignity and self-esteem is another key part of their service – whether it is the way all veterans are referred to as ‘Mr’ and ‘Mrs’ or by their service rank, the high-quality hostel or the brand-new clothes that are handed out – including, at the moment, some snazzylooking jackets from Renault’s Formula One Racing Team.

In the past year, Veterans Aid has provided more than 20,000 nights of accommodation in its own hostel, New Belvedere House, plus many more in hostels, B&Bs, hotels and elsewhere across London and the UK. The charity also rents out 18 low-cost independent retirement flats at Whitworth House in Bexhill-on-Sea in East Sussex. “There’s no appointments system here,” Dr Milroy says proudly, “We don’t say ‘oh, come back three weeks on Wednesday’.”

As well as accommodation, the charity provides food vouchers, travel warrants, money, and access to training, employment and housing. Veterans stay at the hostel for an average of eight to 10 months, and when they do move on, they are helped to settle in to their new home with furniture and other essentials. As well as clothing donations, Veterans Aid receives calls from people offering the veterans work. The charity provides employment too, for example, hiring Bob Gordon, a former Royal Ordnance Corps physical training officer and ex-New Belvedere resident, to join the Veterans Aid team. Having come through homelessness, alcoholism and more, today Mr Gordon can be found bustling about the Veterans Aid office, booking hostels spaces, updating the database and joking with his colleagues about having an Equity card for all his media appearances. He is even set to receive a new look after a makeover programme got in touch with Dr Milroy offering to work their magic on three lucky veterans.

The charity is funded by donations and grants from a huge variety of social care and military groups, from Seafarers UK and the RAF Benevolent Fund (RAFBF) to Supporting People and Royal Hospital Chelsea. In terms of local government, Dr Milroy has nothing but praise for the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and the help they provide.

Despite being a tiny charity, Veterans Aid has what Dr Milroy calls a “powerhouse” of expertise, including a barrister, military psychiatrist, social and outreach workers and a professional alcohol counsellor. Dr Milroy himself is a military welfare specialist, as well as a former wing commander and the current chair of the Ex-Service Action Group. Combined with excellent contacts and ability to, for example, purchase a place at a detox centre instantly, this makes for a very smooth service. When The Pavement visited the headquarters in Victoria, a veteran turned up at the door and was instantly whisked into a room, identified as having been there before from Veterans’ Aid’s private database, and a room was organised for him at New Belvedere House – all within the space of about five minutes. In the past, two veterans were so astonished to be offered a detox place instantly, they ran out on Philip Rogers, Veterans Aid’s specialist on support and counselling.

With its services in demand, Veterans Aid is always thinking to the future, with plans for a new drop-in centre on a more accessible ground floor, a halfway house and improved detox facilities. They also expect to start welcoming more women as an increasing number serve in the armed forces. “We’re hugely ambitious,” says Dr Milroy. “I am the Napolean Dynamite of my world!”

Scottish Veterans’ Residences has been going even longer than Veterans Aid and is Scotland’s oldest ex-service charity. Founded in 1910, SVR provides residential accommodation to ex-servicemen and women and their spouses. Over the years it has helped some 60,000 veterans, from both world wars through to more recent conflicts in Korea, the Falklands and the Gulf. Like at Veterans Aid’s hostel, all veterans staying in SVR accommodation at Whitefoord House or Rosendael in Dundee have their own room. In addition to 81 en-suite rooms, Whitefoord House has 11 self-contained flats available for rent, while Rosendael has accommodation for 45 veterans. Owned and managed by Scottish Veterans’ Housing Association, the two full-board residences provide veterans with security, privacy and areas to socialise such as bowling greens, gardens and sitting rooms. The sense of community is reinforced with regular commemorative, social and fundraising events, while a team of managers, many of whom are ex-service men and women, provides assistance. The work of SVR is funded in the main by the basic, individually assessed accommodation charge paid by residents. This is supported by statutory funding support, such as housing benefit, income support and supporting people allowance.

The Combined Homeless and Information Network (Chain) estimates that around six per cent of all homeless people are veterans. Other people, including London’s mayor Boris Johnson, put it even higher, at 25 per cent. Not someone to be obsessed by figures, Dr Milroy disagrees with the ‘one in four’ estimate. “That’s absolute tripe, always has been,” he says. “One wonders why people want to promote huge figures. I don’t need huge figures for people to feel that we should be doing something for veterans… One’s enough.”

Dr Milroy is equally indignant about people who say it is the fault of the forces that some veterans end up homeless. “These people are homeless for the same reasons as everyone else: poverty, housing, alcohol or substance misuse, relationship breakdown… It’s absolutely vital to understand that it’s not about military service, it’s not about institutionalisation – if it was, it would all be happening the day after.” SVR, however, is less opposed to the idea of institutionalisation, its website saying “many exmilitary personnel find adapting to civilian life extremely difficult.” While Veterans Aid does receive calls from serving soldiers, most of those who get in touch are veterans from conflicts some 10-12 years before, with some coming through Veterans Aid’s sister organisation Combat Stress. SVR covers much the same range, helping those who have recently left the armed forces as well as veterans who have been isolated or homeless for many years.

With such a caring support network, it is no wonder some people try and pass themselves off as veterans to Veterans Aid and other military charities. Dr Milroy has even been introduced to someone pretending to be someone he knows, but he takes it lightly. “We direct them onto other projects, we don’t abandon them‚Ķ It doesn’t matter”.

http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=572

Homelessness

Care or custody

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(The Pavement, 22 May 2009) The campaign to move rough sleepers out of the City of London, reported in last month’s Pavement, shows no sign of letting up. Some rough sleepers have been arrested, a church group has staged a street protest, and readers continue to report nighttime wake-up calls, wetting of sleeping areas by street cleaners and requests to ‘move on’. The story has received high-profile interest from BBC London News and BBC Radio Five Live, as well as other publications, who reported the accounts of a number of rough sleepers as well as the response from Howard Sinclair, the chief executive of Broadway, the charity contracted by the Corporation of London to deliver homeless outreach services within the Square Mile. In the BBC News report, Mr Sinclair said it was not a campaign to harass rough sleepers. “Police are more actively checking on people’s welfare throughout the night,” he said. “There are community issues around what they [rough sleepers] bring in terms of some urination and some belongings that they have.”

Anger and arrests

This response and continuing reports that police and street cleaners are disturbing rough sleepers in the City have angered readers (see letters) and homeless and housing groups, many of whom are concerned by the legal direction the campaign seems to be taking, following the arrest of a reader for refusing to comply with the ‘move on’ policy. On 30th May at 2.30am, police carrying out a ‘welfare check’ on Booth Lane in the City of London woke Peter Pickles, 57, and asked him to move. It was the second time he had been roused that night, and he refused. He was arrested for “obstructing/resisting a constable in execution of duty” and held for, he estimates, three or four hours before being bailed. Mr Pickles, whose 70-mile charity walk in aid of the Spitalfields Crypt Trust (reported in issue 30 of The Pavement) raised around ¬£400, appeared at the City of London Magistrates Court on 6th June. He was represented by a duty solicitor who had earlier entered the waiting room to ask if anyone needed representation. The magistrate said the incident was “out of Mr Pickles’ character” and gave him a six months’ conditional discharge with no costs, meaning that no further action will be taken against Mr Pickles, unless he commits another offence within the next six months. The magistrate also took into account that Mr Pickles was violently assaulted last year (reported in issue 20 of The Pavement). The frequent move-ons have lead to flashbacks of the attack, even though Mr Pickles says, “I find it less stressful out here [on the streets] than in a hostel”. Despite everything, Mr Pickles does not blame the police: “In a sense, I feel sorry for the police, given an order they don’t want to do.” Like many of our readers, Mr Pickles is used to receiving the pink ‘stop/search’ slips from police carrying out ‘welfare checks’. On one such slip handed out just last month, the ‘outcome’ is recorded as “moved on as per force policy Corp of London”. However, Sergeant O’Connor, of Snow Hill police station, told The Pavement that Operation Poncho will continue until further notice, and that the police are involved in “carrying out the welfare checks, checking how everybody is and facilitating cleansers carrying out their work”, the latter aspect, she said, since April or May this year. The Pavement asked Mr Sinclair, of Broadway, about the arrest of Mr Pickles. He was not aware of the case. “It wouldn’t be right for me to comment on individual cases,” he added. “It’s not something that we’re involved in or have been involved in.” Mr Pickles is not the only rough sleeper in the City who has recently had an unexpected brush with the law during this operation. A number of readers spoke about their experiences of being ‘moved on’ to The Pavement and BBC Radio 5 Live. We have since heard that less than a fortnight after speaking out, two of the six men were arrested for suspected immigration problems, despite the police having stopped them for ‘welfare checks’ numerous times before. They were released without charge. Although the Data Protection Act means that the police are unable to confirm the names of individuals who have been arrested and not charged, or comment on their cases, the City of London press bureau confirmed that on 6th June a homeless man was arrested on suspicion of overstaying his visa, and on 8th June another was arrested on suspicion of the same offence. Unfortunately, other than the coincidence of the timing of their arrest, there is no way for us to link this directly to the operation in the City.

Church protest

Meanwhile, in a protest against the campaign, a group from the Bloomsbury Baptist Church, staged a street ‘sleepover’ to show their support and see the cleaning tactics first-hand. Nine members of the Shaftesbury Avenue-based church gathered on Wednesday 18th June on Fleet Street, with eight sleeping out all night. Revd Dr Simon Perry told The Pavement it had been a “revealing” experience: “At 2.15am the police woke us all up and did the thing that the homeless people say has been happening all along, and that is ‘wetting’.” The policewoman told the church group that the place they were sleeping needed cleaning because “homeless people urinate and defecate” and it was “a bit smelly”. Tim Jones, a deacon of the church, asked the policewoman how many hostel places were available and was told “none tonight”. The group hadn’t expected that they would witness wetting (pictured). “I honestly thought it would be political suicide for them to do it while we were there,” said Revd Perry, “because we represent a community that has a great deal of weight behind us politically.” He added: “We will use every resource at our disposal; but in the first instance, this will be an attempt to stop the present campaign, within the context of working in harmony with Broadway.” The protest was a real eye-opener for Revd Perry: “I’ve been there, I’ve experienced it for myself. I’ve now encountered the reality that this is not sensationalism. I’ve seen the politeness shown to us, and the aggression shown to others. On reflection, I would probably say that the politeness and warmth of the police was a thin veneer over the underlying aggression that marks this campaign,” he said. He also criticised the Corporation’s approach to homeless services: “It’s precisely the same philosophy used for children and education ‚Äì results, aims, goals and objectives ‚Äì without taking into account the humanity of people,” he said. “If the order were inverted, we’d be far more likely to achieve targets and goals accidentally.”

Tougher approach

Asked about the increasing anger and concern at the new “more assertive” approach (as it is described on the Broadway website) of the partnership of between the City of London Police, Corporation of London and Broadway, Mr Sinclair admitted that the Broadway was “part of that [approach]” and said “I can see how people would see this as a coordinated approach”, though he denied that it was. “If I can provide some reassurances around that, then I will,” he added. “It’s a different approach all around ‚Äì from the City, from the Police, from the partnership… We’re being far more rigorous in engaging with people and providing positive outcomes.” Asked whether Broadway passed on lists of where homeless people are to the City of London police, Mr Sinclair said: “We work closely as agencies, and people speak to each other on the ground and other levels. We do share information. If the police come across someone, they’ll tell us; and if we saw someone was in genuine distress, we’d call in the police,” adding “There isn’t a war-time table with homeless people being plotted.”

Behind the statistics

Following Mr Sinclair’s response to The Pavement and other media outlets, Broadway has now published a number of ‘positive outcomes’ they have recorded since taking on their contract in March (worth £790,682 over three years), which includes: Six individuals booked into B&B; five accessing emergency bed spaces; six people accessing a rolling shelter; nine people gaining hostel accommodation; one person gaining permanent accommodation; and an additional seven housing outcomes pending. The Pavement asked Mr Sinclair where these individuals had gone on to. He was unable to answer. “I don’t know the details of the individuals,” he said. “I don’t work with them directly, so all I would say is that those numbers here have improved.” He later added: “I don’t know of any negative follow-ups”. Mr Sinclair added: “These figures aren’t temporary, they’re figures. Some of the outcomes are temporary, as opposed to permanent. What we haven’t done is found all these people permanent accommodation ‚Äì it doesn’t work like that. But they’re not temporary outcomes. They’re outcomes.” He agreed, however, that the statistics represented a ‘snapshot’ of Broadway’s progress to date, adding “there are individual stories behind that”. The statistics supplied by Broadway also referred to a number of “wider social/healthcare outcomes” including: 11 requests for mental health assessments; two referrals into detox; five people reconnected to their local community i.e. supported to return to their country of origin, namely Poland (with a further three individuals supported from Tower Hamlets).

http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=518

Homelessness

The law of the streets

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(The Pavement, 22 May 2009) In recent months, The Pavement has reported on the various enforcement measures being employed to drive homeless people off the streets. But do such tactics actually work and if so, who benefits? These are the questions asked by a report, published last year, which examines the impact of enforcement on ‘street users’ in England. The study, carried out by Sarah Johnsen and Suzanne Fitzpatrick, of the University of York, and published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, is primarily concerned with measures used to tackle begging, street drinking and other examples of what is often referred to as “problematic street culture”. However, it also refers to enforcement initiatives used against rough sleepers. The examples of enforcement cited in the report will sadly be familiar to many readers: dispersal orders, the closing down of rough sleeper ‘hot spots’, ‘hot washing’ (wetting the streets to discourage rough sleeping) and arrests under the 1842 Vagrancy Act. The report examines how these interventions have been used and their impact in five key areas – Westminster, Southwark, Birmingham, Leeds and Brighton. From the research carried out, the report concludes that “enforcement is a high-risk strategy, only to be used as a last resort, and never with very vulnerable street users, such as those with mental health problems”. Yet, the report also suggests that many local authorities are increasingly keen to employ these measures in what they see as the “fight against rough sleeping”.

Arrests for sleeping rough

The Pavement recently reported the arrest of Peter Pickles, amongst others, who refused to be ‘moved on’ (issue 33). The incident shocked many people and pointed to a new tough approach by the authorities. This arrest may have been less shocking in Leeds, however, where according to the report homeless people have been arrested under the 1824 Vagrancy Act simply for sleeping rough, a policy carried out, the report claims, in order to “disrupt street lifestyles and address associated ASB”. Arrests as a tactic was not used in any of the other case studies areas. This was, says Dr Johnsen, for a variety of reasons. “The first one being that the police don’t actually want to arrest people who sleep rough. That’s not what they’re about,” she says. “Secondly, there’s a significant fear of public backlash, because while a lot of members of the public – certainly the ones we spoke to – approve of the use of enforcement for people who are begging aggressively or are ‘agro’ street drinkers, most have a very different opinion when it comes to people who are ‘just’ sleeping rough.” “The other reason,” Dr Johnsen explains, “is because it would be of questionable legality in a lot of places, as people can only be arrested if they have refused the offer of ‘freely available’ accommodation. In somewhere like London, you cannot say ‘here’s a bed space available to you right now’ because it just doesn’t happen that way. There’s a real process people have to go through in order to get into a hostel, red tape that has to be negotiated, hoops they have to jump through… It doesn’t happen instantly.” Although the report found instances where arrests acted as a “constructive ‘kick'”, motivating a minority of rough sleepers to look for accommodation, rough sleepers generally just avoided arrest by bedding down further away from the city centre in more hidden places. Most support providers, as well as members of the wider community who were interviewed, were opposed to the arrest of rough sleepers.

Wetting down

The City of London is not the first area to see ‘wetting down’ of rough sleeping spots. In Westminster, the council’s environmental team was instructed to leave pavements of designated areas wet after cleaning the streets to discourage rough sleepers from bedding down at night. The local authority justified this ‘hot washing’ as a deterrent that may, with other measures, encourage rough sleepers to ‘come inside’. All of the rough sleepers spoken to who had been directly affected, like many Pavement readers, merely found alternative, out-of-the-way, places to sleep. Unsurprisingly, hot-washing was strongly criticised by frontline workers. One from Westminster, who was quoted in the report, said: “It’s inhumane… These are some of the most vulnerable people in society… They expect to be knocked by society. It’s the norm for them. But I personally think it’s a pretty appalling way to treat people.”

Dispersal and rough sleeping hot spot closure

Although dispersal orders had been considered in a few case studies, they have not been used to any great extent. While in theory they would help break up large groups of street users, there were concerns that dispersal orders would simply shift street activity to another area. Closing rough sleeping hot spots was thought to be a more effective lever to encourage entrenched street users into services, by both enforcement agents and frontline workers. Used most commonly in central London, as well as Birmingham and elsewhere, one Westminster frontline worker in the report agreed. “If an area is disrupted then it might budge someone in their pattern of going to the same place, at the same time. If they can no longer do that it may make them look at something else,” the worker said. But they emphasised a need for “appropriate interagency coordination” and giving “plenty of warning regarding the date of closure and information about support options available”. They also called for eventual closure to be preceded by intensive outreach work.

Concerns of support providers

Many support providers who were interviewed supported the enforcement measures in principle, provided there was coordination with supportive interventions. However, street outreach workers agreed almost unanimously that enforcement measures caused many rough sleepers to “go underground” and sleep in more hidden places, making them harder to locate and offer support to. Frontline staff also objected to the use of enforcement to combat anything but “genuine” antisocial behaviour. Many support providers were also worried that councils were under pressure to “be seen” to take action against antisocial behaviour, with their clients viewed as “easy targets”.

Tarred with the same brush

Following the reports of harassment of rough sleepers in the City, many people expressed feelings of unease and even anger towards Broadway, the charity contracted by the Corporation of London to carry out homeless outreach work within the Square Mile. “It’s really important that outreach workers aren’t implicated in enforcement actions because they lose their integrity in the eyes of people on the streets,” Dr Johnsen warns. While outreach workers in the report were anxious to distance themselves personally from enforcement, frontline workers wanted a “seat at the table” in antisocial behaviour operational discussions, in order to safeguard the interests of their clients.

The view from the street

Like many service providers, those homeless interviewed were often cynical about the motive behind the enforcement initiatives. “What are the authorities actually after? Is it a vanity, a cosmetic exercise? Do they think we should be out of the way of the visitors?” asked one rough sleeper in Westminster quoted in the report. Not all those interviewed were completely against enforcement tactics for “aggressive” individuals. However, the report notes: “street users on the whole believed that they should be ‘left alone'”.

What’s the future for enforcement?

“There’s [already] been a significant change in perception amongst service providers” said Dr Johnsen. “Since we first began the research people seem to have come to a consensus that enforcement can in some circumstances help some people, but only if appropriate support is effectively integrated, and even then you can’t guarantee that it will work for any one individual.” But, there are still gaps in the provision of some services, she adds. “It’s all very well saying to these people ‘you need to change your way of life, you need to come inside, live in a hostel, you need to get drug or alcohol treatment’ and so on. But if you can’t offer it to them then and there, how justifiable is the threat of dire ramifications for failure to engage?” A major concern for many when reading about these moves will be the loss of free will it marks for readers, as they dictate how and where one should live – instead of relying on an offer of an alternative to life on the street, they are attempts to ban it. Broadway has made much of its statement that “we do not believe it is acceptable that anyone in the 21st century should have to sleep on the streets”. The question perhaps to ask now, some suggest is, ‘acceptable for whom?’. See letters for more on the City story and a legal query.

http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=533

Homelessness

Bin-sleeper dumped by rubbish truck

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(The Pavement, 21 May 2009) A homeless man who sought shelter in a bin in New Hampshire, US, was left with minor injuries after being inadvertently thrown into a rubbish-compacting truck.

Guy Stevens, 41, had been sleeping in the bin for nearly two weeks, but on this particular morning the rubbish was collected early. He managed to jump from the truck, but was left with minor injuries and was later seen limping down the street. Mr Stevens was subsequently taken to jail after police discovered he was wanted on a theft charge dating back to 2005.

This is not the first time such an accident has happened. In Ireland last September, Kevin Fitzpatrick was crushed to death when the industrial wheeled bin he was sleeping in was emptied into a rubbish-collection lorry. His remains were found by workers sorting through waste at a recycling depot outside the city.

The 36-year- old, originally from Derbyshire, was believed by police to have arrived in Limerick just that weekend. At the time, the director of health and social charity Trust reported that a similar tragedy had been averted just weeks earlier, after a driver collecting a skip noticed someone was inside it. Meanwhile in 2006, 44-year-old Robert Baswell sustained injuries including broken legs and ribs, after he found himself in a rubbish truck after falling asleep in a Florida bin.

http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=405

Homelessness

Will Homeless Link make homelessness history?

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(The Pavement, 21 May 2009) In November 2006, Homeless Link, the umbrella organisation for all frontline homeless agencies, published a 10-step guide outlining its pledge to end rough sleeping by 2012 and all homelessness in the UK by 2022. So how’s it going, and why are there two deadlines?

Gill Perkins, head of communications at Homeless Link, told The Pavement they see the 2012 target as “a milestone” on the way to achieving the end of homelessness by 2022. It’s also the intention, according to the guide (Ending homelessness: From vision to action), that the end to rough sleeping will happen “in time for the Olympics”. In terms of funding, money donated is not specifically directed to the campaign or donated on the condition of meeting the goals, says Ms Perkins, but goes towards the general work of Homeless Link’s members in tackling homelessness – “our raison d’etre”. In order to measure progress, the Homeless Link action plan included a ‘roadmap’ to ending homelessness.

The draft Mayor’s Housing strategy does say the mayor will support Homeless Link’s target to end rough sleeping by 2012; and housing minister Iain Wright just this month (April) unveiled the ‘Places of Change’ programme to “help end persistent rough sleeping and reduce rough sleeping to as close to zero as possible” – a commitment and an action plan, though not quite the full pledge to end rough sleeping by 2012. As well as the roadmap, Homeless Link’s action plan laid down 10 key areas covering prevention, support and accommodation that must to be tackled in order to achieve their goal. These included introducing an “effective legal safety net for everyone who is homeless” in line with Scotland’s plan to abolish the “priority need” test by 2012; “emergency interventions” such as family mediation services and rent deposit schemes in every council area; as well as early prevention techniques such as spotting people in vulnerable ‘transition’ periods and assessing and issuing warnings about new government policies which could lead to homelessness. A “doubts and quibbles” page also responded to potential criticisms of their campaign, such as “But homelessness is only part of the problem for many people. You can’t solve everything”. Homeless Link’s answer to that challenge concluded: “Beacons of excellence demonstrate that with careful design and adequate funding, services can help even the most chaotic people to move towards a better life.”

Ten years ago Labour pledged to reduce rough sleeping to “as close to zero as possible” and cut the number of those sleeping on the streets by two-thirds before 2002. They claim to have achieved this target; however, this has been challenged by a number of homeless groups – as well as many of our readers – who say the figures do not represent the reality on the streets or take into account the “hidden homeless” drifting between hostels and the streets.

This April, the Department for Communities and Local Government published a discussion paper entitled Rough sleeping 10 years on: From the streets to independent living and opportunity, and has said it intends to publish an updated rough sleeping strategy later this year to set out government policy for the next three years. The recent discussion paper briefly outlines what this strategy will likely include before listing “who’s on the streets”. According to the paper, the answer is “a continuing flow of ‘new’ rough sleepers”, “migrants without recourse to public funds” and “entrenched rough sleepers resistant to service provision”.

Homelessness has undoubtedly been back on the agenda in recent times; with MEPs signing a pledge to end rough sleeping by 2015, London mayoral candidates backing Homeless Link’s goal and the Iain Wright’s recent pledge. Ms Perkins notes “a renewed focus from the government on this major social issue”, although she agrees that “Obviously government has to support our campaign to get all the relevant agencies working together – no one group can do it alone”. This focus on group effort means involving the opposition party and working with people like shadow housing minister Grant Shapps, as well as central government, local authorities, related organisations and the departments of health and criminal justice.

The government’s part in ending homelessness, according to Homeless Link’s plan, ranges from statutory reforms such as ending the “16-hour rule” and amending the Homelessness Act, to instructing policy change in other areas, whether directing NHS trusts to never discharge homeless people from hospitals onto the streets or halving the number of evictions.

So does Homeless Link think they can succeed to meet its goals? “Yes”, says Ms Perkins. “As long as everyone comes to the party… It’s an ambitious goal, but worthwhile”.

http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=423

Homelessness

Mayoral candidates: Boris Johnson interview

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(The Pavement, 5 April 2008) He has been editor of The Spectator, MP and Shadow Minister of Higher Education, but to most people Boris Johnson is that Eton-educated Tory with the shock of blonde hair who goes on Have I got News For You? and makes ill-advised comments about Liverpool. Yet it appears someone has had a word in his ear and suggested that to have a serious pop at winning the crown of London mayor, it might be time to lose the jester’s hat. So there were friendly smiles but no buffoonish jokes as Boris strode into the sparsely decorated County Hall room, and stood on the map of London stuck presidential seal-like on the floor and emblazoned with his campaign slogan ‘Back Boris’.

When handed a copy of The Pavement, Mr Johnson immediately remembered a much earlier brush with homelessness. “Actually one of the first things I ever gave away money to was Shelter, at primary school…”

Thankfully the mayor’s budget holds more money than the average piggy bank. So how would Mr Johnson spend these funds to help homeless people in London? “The most important thing is to help homeless people get the accommodation they need,” he says. “That is why I want to get people into some of the 84,000 empty homes across London. The number of empty homes has risen considerably in the last few years, and the number of people on housing waiting lists has gone up 68 per cent. There is an obvious solution there, it seems to me”.

One of the first things Boris did in his campaign was to visit St Mungo’s in Chelsea. “We talked to a wonderful guy, Edwin, and heard his life story and how homelessness can overtake anybody,” says Mr Johnson. “Growing up, he was a well-off guy, then suddenly he hit the buffers, everything went wrong, and his personal life broke down. These things are often accompanied by some breakdown in emotional, personal lives as well, and suddenly there just seems no way out”.

As mayor, Mr Johnson says he would encourage charities like St Mungo’s, although he warns that while hostels are part of the solution, “in the long run we need to get people off waiting lists and into accommodation. That is why I think homeless people should vote for me if they could vote.” I explain that in fact homeless people can vote, simply by making a declaration of local connection. “Oh, can they? Good!”

The GLA Act, passed in October 2007, gives the mayor of London responsibility for the capital’s housing strategy and investment as well as the power to decide how London’s public money for affordable housing will be spent. And with the newspapers full of credit crunches, repossessions and soaring mortgage interest rates, it is no wonder housing is a big part of the Back Boris campaign.

Like Ken Livingstone, Mr Johnson has pledged 50,000 new affordable homes in 2008-11 while also calling for protection of London’s green belt and an emphasis on quality as well as quantity. “Affordable must not mean second-best,” he says. “It must not mean high-rise council flats. It must not mean being cramped and overcrowded”. Despite these exacting standards, Boris reveals he is not averse to more ‘creative’ ideas. “There are lots of tricks that the current mayor is missing, like Hidden Homes.”

This is a scheme that has been run by Wandsworth Council since 2003. Mr Johnson applauds the council for doing a “fantastic job” finding homes in overlooked places. “They lifted the lid of an underground car park and turned it into lots of wonderful homes. There are 10,000 homes you could find like that”, he says, before mentioning “suburban tube stations” as another possible option.

For Mr Johnson, housing and homelessness are “two sides of the same coin”: Homelessness, he says is “a huge problem and you are dealing with people who have fallen through the housing net who feel completely hopeless and that there’s no one looking out for them”.

So does he back Homeless Link’s goal to eradicate rough sleeping by 2012? Or does he think this is Mr Livingstone being influenced by the upcoming Olympics in London? “I don’t know if it is linked to the Olympics,” he replies cautiously. “I certainly think it is sad there are so many rough sleepers and they deserve help and support.” He supports the target, but is wary of looking underhand. “We are not just doing it to make London look tidy for the Olympics,” he stresses. “We are doing it because we want to help people in their lives.”

However, Mr Johnson admits he is less up to speed with the issues over banning soup runs, a campaign recently put forward by Westminster Council. The scheme failed to obtain approval, and although Mr Johnson is “familiar with the controversy”, he wavers over who would get his support. “There seem to be two sides to the argument,” he says. “What John Bird has to say, I listen to with great respect and interest – I do not want to support measures that will unnecessarily keep people on the street. On the other hand, I do not want to snatch soup from the lips of hungry people. It would be pretty heartless to withhold it.” So which would it be? “We clearly need to work out what the best way forward there is. We will need to see how the Westminster experiment works,” he says.

He does, however, confirm that he is keen to support the voluntary sector and get money to worthy causes around London, like St Mungo’s. “I am also going to be setting up a Mayor’s Fund, which will be a big vehicle for getting money from the wealth-creating sector to the voluntary sector”. This will, he hopes, be a great thing for young people and the homeless, too.

Another hot topic surrounding homelessness in London is the increasing number of homeless people from particularly Central and Eastern Europe. What does Boris think of the situation many ‘A8s’ or A2 nationals (those from recent EU member states Romania and Bulgaria) find themselves in – powerless to claim benefits for a year, unable to find a job and left to fend for themselves on the streets?

“Obviously I hugely welcome the contribution that Polish immigrants have made, and people from all over the A8 countries; they are doing a fantastic job in London and they deserve support,” Mr Johnson enthuses. “But it would be a it would be a tragedy if people were coming to London and ending up in poverty and destitution, unable to get back to family who can look after them”. He cites his recent visit to the POSK centre in Hammersmith and his concern about the “growing” homelessness, despite networks and groups which support people within the Polish community.

Mr Johnson adds that he has a particular interest in the level of assistance provided for the number of ex-service men and women on the streets. Recent statistics suggest that one in four rough sleepers in London have a military background. Mr Johnson has pledged to introduce free bus travel for returning veterans of current wars. “I think it is about time that we did something for lots of people that are coming back from wars, which we may or may not agree with, and finding that the country they are fighting for is very cold and unwelcoming,” he says. “I think it would be a good thing to show some recognition of the sacrifices they have made.” He cannot resist adding: “I am pleased to see the mayor has now imitated us… he has had eight years to think of this, but has decided to do it as well – and about time too.”

During the interview he asks: “What’s your estimated of the number of rough sleepers in London?” and, when looking through The Pavement, “What’s the Soup Run Forum?” Perhaps Mr Johnson is keen to engage and learn more about the homeless community and the latest issues. He comments how every morning he cycles past the queue of people waiting outside St Martin’s in the Fields and wonders “what have they been doing all night?”

As we wind up the interview, The Pavement photographer asks Mr Johnson to pose with a copy of the magazine, which he does readily, flicking through the pages at the same time. He soon comes across the photo on the foot care page and with a cry of revulsion (“Ooh… aah… nasty!”), the serious politician demeanour slips and for a moment Mr Johnson is once again that young boy who did his bit for Shelter.

http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=394