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Rough sleeper found next to Constable’s grave in Hampstead

PUBLISHED: 16:04 14 January 2016 | UPDATED: 16:04 14 January 2016

A rough sleeper's belongings were found near to Constable's grave in Hampstead. Picture: Polly Hancock

A rough sleeper's belongings were found near to Constable's grave in Hampstead. Picture: Polly Hancock

Archant

Reporter Emma Youle goes on patrol with outreach workers from Camden Council’s Safer Streets team to see the reality of rough sleeping in Hampstead

These belongings were found inside a hollow hedge in a Hampstead graveyard. Picture: Polly HancockThese belongings were found inside a hollow hedge in a Hampstead graveyard. Picture: Polly Hancock

A sodden white duvet is abandoned in woodland surrounded by a ring of discarded cigarette butts and, hidden inside, is a man.

This is the shocking reality of life on the streets of Hampstead for one entrenched street sleeper we find while out on a dawn patrol with outreach workers.

They have been tipped-off about a small encampment opposite Whitestone Pond, but it is almost impossible to spot just metres from some of NW3’s most luxurious mansions.

So well camouflaged is the body among the bedding that it’s hard to believe anyone is inside, that a man has been left out to rot like a discarded piece of rubbish. But this is his shelter for the night.

The outreach workers approach carefully and wake the man. He fights through the fog of sleep and I can see a black hooded jumper, a shadowed face, hear a slight hacking cough.

Two men were found sleeping inside this shanty shelter in West Hampstead. Picture: Polly HancockTwo men were found sleeping inside this shanty shelter in West Hampstead. Picture: Polly Hancock

“Do you want some help? What’s your name? Do you need new shoes or clothes?” the outreach worker asks, but the man says no.

“Sometimes people have the same shoes for years,” he explains to me.

“They have mental health issues, they wander off and leave their family and they haven’t changed their clothes or footwear for years.

“It’s just rotted on them and it’s the saddest thing in the world.”

This rough sleeper is 52-years-old and has been on the streets for 12 years.

A member of the Safer Streets team finds evidence of rough sleeping inside a hollow hedge. Picture: Polly HancockA member of the Safer Streets team finds evidence of rough sleeping inside a hollow hedge. Picture: Polly Hancock

When the team check their database they find he is known to services, is not a drug addict or alcoholic, but has mental health needs.

He was last in contact with a homeless charity in September and refuses any further help for now.

The outreach workers have no choice but to leave him as the temporary shelter where Camden street sleepers are taken to access support is full for the night.

“Now we know exactly where he is, we can come again with teas and coffee, we don’t want to overwhelm him,” they explain.

Outside Swiss Cottage Library we find a young Italian man in a sleeping bag in the grisly rain.

Swiss Cottage Library pictured at daybreak when outreach workers are out on patrol. Picture: Polly HancockSwiss Cottage Library pictured at daybreak when outreach workers are out on patrol. Picture: Polly Hancock

He shakes our hands politely but seems paranoid and mistrustful.

The team think he used to work but lost his job.

In West Hampstead there is a pavement shanty shelter of plywood and plastic. It looks like more fly-tipped rubbish but there are two men inside.

“We’ve been burned, we’ve been set on fire, we’ve been threatened with rape, we’re going to be killed,” says one, describing the violence of life on the streets.

In Swiss Cottage, behind the former Ham&High office in Avenue Road, we find a small sleeping nook that has been recently boarded-up.

Evidence of rough sleeping near the former Ham&High office building in Swiss Cottage. Picture: Polly HancockEvidence of rough sleeping near the former Ham&High office building in Swiss Cottage. Picture: Polly Hancock

Next to it some quilts, a blue fleece blanket and cans of Polish lager have been dumped.

And further north, as the sun rises in a grey indigo sky over a Hampstead churchyard, we find someone’s belongings and bedding in a hollow hedge metres from Constable’s grave. A bed among the crumbling headstones.

The majority of rough sleepers in this part of the borough have been on the streets for years, are isolated, and are difficult to find.

It is a hidden face of Hampstead.

This is why the Safer Streets team rely so heavily on tip-offs from the public about rough sleepers.

Emma Youle joins Camden Safer Streets team to patrol the borough looking to engage with rough sleepers. Picture: Polly HancockEmma Youle joins Camden Safer Streets team to patrol the borough looking to engage with rough sleepers. Picture: Polly Hancock

Without these calls, those suffering often remain unseen and without support.

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

The Camden Safer Streets team relies on information from the public to find rough sleepers.

They will follow up on every report, but need specific information including an exact time, date and location.

What did the rough sleeper look like, their clothes, bedding. Are they male or female, and how old?

Who to contact

You can contact the Camden Safer Streets team at all hours, seven days a week, to report a sighting of someone sleeping rough.

Call 020 7833 7970, 0808 800 000, email streetsafe@cri.org.uk or tweet @CamdenSST

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