Word on the street: Begging sadly now an ‘ordinary occurence’

PUBLISHED: 12:00 31 March 2018


A tent pitched up on Crouch End’s town hall square a fortnight ago.

Apparently a well wisher gave it to one of the various homeless characters who line the Broadway. So ‘Kevin’, usually seen outside Specsavers, had set up home there, hoping the council took pity and gave him a permanent one, made of brick.

Our Safer Neighbourhood community police officers were seen to poke their faces inside but then leave, presumably after a friendly chat.

Outrageously the council sold the square last summer to a private developer, the Far Eastern Company based in the Cayman Islands, so we are left with the question: who is now responsible for what goes on here?

When I was a child you hardly ever saw beggars, unless you were abroad. I can remember on my first holiday in Rome being approached by ragged people with disabled limbs and being utterly shocked that no one cared for them.

But what is shocking now is that begging has become such an ordinary occurrence that we are no longer shocked.

According to Crisis, an average of 4,134 people slept rough each night in 2016, more than double the amount if 2010. What is new is that the authorities seem no longer to care.

There is one place where it is particularly outrageous that nothing has been done – and that is under the bridge just before Finsbury Park station.

For nearly two years now, since Transport for London (TfL) closed the Crouch End entrance for renovations, countless commuters have hurried past a scene as in Dickens. which has become home to a myriad of rough sleepers, lying on putrid bedding, sodden with dirty rainwater, next to piles of rubbish and plastic cups from which they beg for money. Where is the public health concern here?

In contrast to the authorities, the general public is doing what it can.

In Crouch End, Stroud Green and Muswell Hill, the churches work together on an area rota to offer twelve winter shlter places each night.

They provide dinner and breakfast, a shower and clean clothes, and help for people who use the shelter to find more stable accommodation.

It is not easy: funded mostly with donations by individuals and the business community, it takes twenty volunteers to run and prepare for each night shift. They also run an all year round nightly soup kitchen, and a soup run on Saturday nights.

But homelessness is not something the authorities can simply leave to volunteers. Many are mentally ill, violent or addicted. The more it is left the more it will worsen, for them and for us.

In 1968 Ralph McTell recorded his “Streets of London”.

He headlined Hornsey Town Hall in 1969, overlooking the square where Kevin’s tent is pitched and a mile up the road from under that dark, dark bridge in Finsbury Park.

“Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London, I’ll show you something to make you change your mind”.

Perhaps it is time the authorities were made to change theirs.

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