My thoughts, amid the fog of exhaustion, were ‘Well if I die tonight at least I die fighting. Not being slowly driven to insanity by sound.’ At least this way I had my fate in my own hands. Anger also propelled me when at 2AM I shouted ‘f*** you’ to the back entrance of Marks and Spencer, Ilford gathered up my sleeping bag and my suitcase and escaped the infernal all-night beeping perpetrated by Britain’s cosiest high street retailer against homeless people. I WAS prepared to die that night. I knew the risks. But I wasn’t prepared to die on my knees. And on my way to sleep in the doorway around the front of M&S, I grabbed a brick to keep by my side just in case. Someone tried to nick my stuff when I got up a few hours later for a p*ss but I was quick enough to chase him off.
I was reminded of that brick yesterday, when I met Sara begging outside McDonalds in Ilford, a pretty girl, with a peachy complexion and soft blonde curls. She was soon joined by her boyfriend Jason. They were both on the streets but were happy because they were off to get Sara’s first pregnancy scan, later that afternoon. They had only been in Ilford a few weeks and I suggested they might be safer in Romford or Leytonstone where there is at least a community around you to protect you if you are harassed by junkies or police with little regard for the letter of the law, or the niceties in implementing it.
They had had an awful morning, down the housing office. I immediately felt their pain having gone through the same humiliating experience…but this one was shocking even by the standards of London Housing Authorities.
They had gone there in the faint hope that the fact that Sara is pregnant, might speed up the process of being housed. They were told by a woman that they were not priority because their baby is not ‘viable’ until she is 24 weeks pregnant, in a month’s time. ‘How dare she say my baby is not viable,’ grimaced Sara. I told them not to spend any money on food and to go to the Sikh temple where they will feed you all day, delicious vegetarian dishes, providing you take off your shoes, wear a bandana and behave respectfully. I can’t tell you how comforting that place was to be when I went there after being sonically tortured by Marks and Spencer. It felt like someone actually loved me and did mind if I died. God bless the Sikhs.
I asked for their number but they had had their mobile stolen by a gang of young Asian men brandishing bricks. They had managed to sneak into Valentine’s Park because it’s quieter and nicer than sleeping in a shop doorway. But they told me that many of the girls sleeping up there had been raped in the night by gangs. Now that’s too horrible for words and defiling not just the people but also such a beautiful, spiritual, timeless place. l pray the trees don’t have eyes and I thought of troubled Priya. Many of those people will have gone there to escape the beeping.
It sometimes feels like everybody is against you, bitches in housing, gangs of kids, Marks and Spencer, GPs and the DSS. And of course the Metropolitan Police who are apparently understaffed yet seem to find plenty of time to harass people who are simply fighting not to die. Sara and Jason had been given a tent. More and more homeless people are turning to this solution. It gets you out of Marks and Spencer’s hair, and there are tons of green spaces all over the city where you could pitch up. But this lovely young couple confirmed what I have been hearing from many of my homeless friends. If the police catch you in a tent they will take it away and destroy it. ‘These Special Police came up to us and said that they were gonna come looking for us after the park shut and this horrible one said that if he found us, he would rip up our tent with his bare hands.’ At least Sara and Jason have each other. That must be comforting when you wake up and realise you have countless enemies who will happily grind their boots into your fingers as you try to cling on for dear life. I hope they got to the Sikh Temple and Sara managed to eat for two.