An encounter with London's homeless

Posted on January 12, 2016 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

homeless london homeless glasgow

Left: A rough sleeper in Islington; Right: the same problem can be seen in the streets of Glasgow


I don't believe in New Year's resolutions simply because if I want to make changes, I would not wait until the beginning of the year. However, a new year has motivated me to do something different, which was to join a grassroots homeless volunteer network, The Sock Mob and spent one January evening meeting the homeless face to face in Central London.

It is hard to ignore the issue of homelessness in London because rough sleepers can be seen in all parts of London these days. According the Guardian's recent article – 'the number of rough sleepers in London has more than doubled in five years because of “toxic mix” of cuts, government failure and a lack of support for people arriving from EU countries, according to figures from a network of charities.'

With over 7500 homeless people sleeping on the streets, can we still turn a blind eye on this growing crisis? When I was in Paris a few months ago, I was also equally alarmed by the homeless people on the streets, and like London, many of them are from central and eastern Europe. With around 4.1 million homeless people in Europe, this crisis is not just isolated to mega cities like London and Paris, it is also affecting provincial cities too.


homeless in paris homeless in paris

Rough sleepers in Paris are as ubiquitous as London


There are currently a number of organisations that help to tackle homelessness in London, e.g. the Mayor's No second night out and charity groups like Crisis and Shelter from the Storm. At the event, I also found out about another organisation called The Sikh Welfare & Awareness Team (S.W.A.T) which provides hot food in Central three times a week, as well as other support and activities.

In the past, I had a misconception that the people who end up homeless are either drug abusers, mental health sufferers or immigrants, and I believe this is shared by many of the general public. Yet after watching a documentary about homelessness changed my ignorant view, and I decided to try and understand the issue by meeting them.


London's homeless homeless in London

Left: A 'camp' in Chinatown; Right: the traffic cone trumpeter


A few days into 2016, over 20 of us showed up for the event and we were divided into smaller groups led by an experienced volunteer who has been involved with the group for over 8 years. Between us, we had brought new socks, bottled water, snacks and fruits to be distributed to the homeless as we walked around Soho, Piccadilly and Charing Cross. The group leader also brought pot noodles and hot water in a thermal flask for those who wanted a quick and hot meal.

Throughout the evening, we met and chatted to various rough sleepers of all ages and of both sexes. We talked to the traffic cone trumpeter in Chinatown; the seventeen year old boy who was given a £50 note by a random passerby; a carer from Brighton who lost everything and couldn't find a job in London; a woman was desperate for a hot drink on Christmas eve, but was turned away by Westminster council because she was registered under the Camden Council. Each person had a different story, but all them were cold, hungry and lonely.

I am fully aware that volunteering once or even regularly will not solve this complex and deepening issue, but I am glad that I met them face to face and listened to their stories. After I got home, I started to wonder how design can help the homeless, or if designers are doing enough to deal with the growing social issues that surround us daily. In my next entry, I will explore the solutions that designers have come up with that tackle this global problem.

To be continued...



This post was posted in London, Social issues, Homelessness and was tagged with London, paris