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Down and out in London 2015

John is living in an old gas heating cupboard. It’s part of an office block, and the security guard lets him stay, because he feels sorry for him. The Prisma’s Memoirs. December 2015


down and homeless mendigo pobre pixabay 8

Steve Latham


But, he says that the cupboard is warm enough, because it’s in the middle of the block, which is itself well-heated.

He has a sleeping bag to sleep in, and watches films on his mobile phone during the evenings. He does it in the dark because there is of course no electricity.

Every morning John washes in the public toilets, and then goes on a round of various agencies which help the homeless.

Jane arrived in our area during the spring, together with her boyfriend Geoff. He has disappeared recently. And she has been seen with a series of other guys.

They seem to offer her a mixture of companionship and protection, in return for free sex. As the summer progressed, however, she has gradually transformed before our eyes.

Bruises, cuts and infections spread across the visible parts of her body, including her face. And several teeth vanished between the times we saw her.

Two faces of the homelessness problem in London; an update of George Orwell’s’ classic “Down and out in Paris and London”.

down and homeless mendigo pobre pixabay 12Recent figures from the House of Commons’ own library show that London’s homelessness has increased by 38% since 2011.

This continues the trend which dates back to the 2008 recession, which caused a rapid rise of homelessness in the capital.

Cuts to benefits and reductions in social housing have made the situation of people in precarious conditions even worse.

The life expectations of people living rough is 47 years old, which is 30 years less than the general population.

So far it is not as bad as I remember it from Thatcher’s Britain in the 1980s. Then there was a ‘cardboard city’ in the underpass by Waterloo station in the centre of London.

It was quite literally as bad as anything I have seen in third world shanty towns, with people living in shacks made from wooden crates, even during the London winter.

But the people sleeping at night in the doorways of expensive stores in The Strand, which I thought had vanished for good; these have returned.

Trying to catch some sleep in the open is difficult however.

Some talk of having to sleep ‘with one eye open’.

This is to watch out for attacks from drunken returnees from the nightclubs, or thieves trying to steal what little these homeless people still possess.

For many, however, even the danger and uncertainty of life on the streets is preferable to staying in one of the homeless hostels, because aggression and drug abuse are prevalent in many of them.

down and homeless mendigo pobre pixabay COLORJohn is looking the worse for wear, now that the cold weather is kicking in. And his conversation is markedly more desperate and agitated as he glances around anxiously.

And Jane. We haven’t seen her for weeks. No one from the street community seems to know where she is.

Photos: Pixabay

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