Young Readers’ Edition: The real people sleeping rough on London’s streets
Lauren Sneade discovers that stereotypes of homeless people can be horribly wrong.
Homelessness in the UK is an issue many will be aware of, but are we aware of how serious this problem really is?
Tonight, approximately three hundred people will be sleeping rough on the streets of London and, over the last year, 3,500 men and women have spent at least one night without any permanent shelter in the Capital – this is almost half the number of people sleeping rough in the entire country.
Tim Wright is a man in his early thirties, found most nights outside the Barclays branch in Highbury, though you will never find him there during the day for he is aware that his presence might be “off-putting” to the bank’s customers.
Tim is a trained carpenter who is unable to find work; he is currently waiting to be accepted into a London hostel – the only one he is able to apply for, as it is the only one which will allow dogs. Tim could never part with his best friend Freddie.
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Frequently he will have to spend more than thirty pounds to take care of Freddie’s vet bills, a sum which he very often cannot afford. Tim has spent most of this winter sleeping in churches where he has been allowed in.
Tim became homeless in 2002 when he was stabbed in the chest by his flatmate’s boyfriend, damaging his coronary arteries. Because of this he was unable to work, so he lost his house and his car. Too embarrassed about his situation to ask any of his friends for help – and with no parents to turn to – he ended up on the streets.
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He could not get benefits because he didn’t have a home address and he can’t work on a building site anymore as he doesn’t have a qualification card.
The man who attacked him got 11 years in prison; now he is out but Tim is still on the streets. I asked Tim what kind of people normally give him money and he said that “the people in suits never do, it’s the people who are two wage packets away from where I am that fork out.”
Most years before 2010 saw a decline in the number of people left homeless in London, however the figures have more than doubled in the last four years. It is perhaps no coincidence that this comes at a time of drastic cuts to the housing benefit budget.
According to the housing and homelessness charity Shelter, 80,000 children in the UK had no permanent accommodation to sleep in this Christmas.
This is a serious issue and, while rents in London continue to rise and the welfare budget for housing stays lower than at any time in recent history, it looks unlikely that the situation will change any time soon.