Thursday, November 30, 2006

Idea Store Whitechapel library and the booking of computers

Last night Declan and I were visited for the third time by our St Mungo's CAT – the first time was on 7 November and the second the following night. They only stayed for a few minutes. They wanted to inform us that they didn't have a night shelter to refer us to, but that they would drop in on us again when they have something. We have been sleeping rough since we arrived in London on 3 November. We are carrying everything we own, including documentation. And we still have another 11 days to go to our High Court hearing on 11 December.

So after speaking to the PA to the CEO of St Mungo's, the Private Secretary to the Leader of Tower Hamlets Council, the Assistant Private Secretary to the Minister for Housing and Planning (having emailed the Minister for Housing and Planning), and having emailed Prime Minister Tony Blair – all in relation to the dereliction of duty of care on the part of St Mungo's – what you get is ... nothing. It seems to me that St Mungo's, despite its turnover of £37.2m in 2005, is a pawn in a game of chess being played by the Metropolitan Police – the end-game being to stop us running a network of those abused by church.

Yesterday was women's clothes day in the Whitechapel Mission. At 7.30am I asked a member of staff for some items of clothing. I actually passed him a written list, which included a small description of each item since they don't allow me to see the clothes. By 9.00am they hadn't given me anything and because we had to leave for the Dellow Centre, Declan told the member of staff that we would collect the clothes this morning. The clothes I need are all necessities for rough sleeping, such as a thick jumper, woollen stocks and hat, thermal long john pants and long-sleeved vest, etc. The last two nights have been particularly cold.

I wasn't really expecting much, especially since I had been trying to get a pair of jeans off them for over two weeks and got nothing except two pairs that I had to return because they fit so badly. I wasn't mistaken. I asked for a hooded dark coloured jumper and got literally the opposite. The cap they gave me you would put in a bin if you saw it on top of a chair in a library; somebody must have been in stitches when it was put in the bag. I also got two pairs of woollen socks, thermal long john pants (but not the thermal long-sleeved vest), and 65p Tesco underwear. So much for the Whitechapel Mission offering "the largest clothing store in London available to the homeless". At least I have resolved the problem of my legs being cold at night!

Going to the Dellow Centre has become a bit of a nonsense for me, which is why this morning Declan went alone. I went to the library instead. We walk 20 minutes from the Whitechapel Mission to the Dellow Centre, carrying all our belongings with us. Once at the gate we have to wait for 20 minutes in the cold, and more often than not in the rain as well. Each person in the queue must speak his/her name into the intercom at the front gate, and be registered, to gain entry. At reception, you get a number which you present at the kitchen counter in exchange for a tray and what's on offer. Lately the only thing I have been getting out of it is a soup and a shower – the latter I can get at the Whitechapel Mission. Hardly worth my while.

Things in the library, Idea Store Whitechapel, are starting to heat up. For the last three weeks I have been able to book computers at will with my membership card. There is of course the odd mistake here and there – a lost hour because the member of staff forgot to save the hour I had been given, wrong computer number, etc. Yesterday I was told that the maximum time allowed on a computer is three hours a day. Declan immediately got the name of the manager, and his email address off another member of staff. Today I have booked computers for a total of 8 1/2 hours, although a member of staff had earlier told me I could only do so for a total of six hours. With the library seemingly making up policies in relation to us, Declan emailed the manager this evening.

Dear Mr. Abidin,

Further to our brief talk this evening, I reconfirm that for the past three weeks my wife has been booking access to computers in Idea Store Whitechapel without restriction save yesterday when she was told by a member of staff that she could only do so for a maximum of 3 hours a day. Today she has booked access to computers for a total of 8 1/2 hours, although a member of staff told her she could only do so for a maximum of 6 hours a day.

I would greatly appreciate if you could furnish me with a response that my wife could use in the event of further difficulty.

Yours sincerely,
Declan Heavey

Monday, November 27, 2006

Email to Prime Minister Tony Blair

I must be getting used to the cold because last night my legs were not as cold as usual. I don't think I woke up more than two or three times.

Things have mushroomed at the Whitechapel Mission since the attempted assault on Declan and the attempted robbery of our belongings there yesterday morning. By the time Declan had brought our breakfasts to the table at 8.00am, he had negotiated no less than six homeless guys who had approached him in one way or another – the first one on the Whitechapel Road at 7.00am as we made our way to the Mission.

We left the Mission at 8.10am to be the first in the queue outside the Dellow Centre. Declan was adamant we do a laundry today, even though that meant we would have to wait outside the Centre in the cold and drizzling rain for 45 minutes until they opened at 9.15am. As it turned out, we were 5th in the queue and found upon entry that the washing machines had already been taken. I was told at reception that a place would be reserved for us tomorrow if we arrived at the same time. That's another 45 minutes waiting outside in the cold and likely rain. Somebody must be having a good laugh.

While Declan was waiting for me at reception at 11.30am (the centre closes at that time), the nun in charge of clothes appeared at the front door from the courtyard with the homeless guy who attempted to rob our belongings yesterday morning. She handed the guy a key and a black bag containing clothes. As well as the Dellow Centre, the Sisters of Mercy run hostels and flats for homeless men and women. Declan is expecting encounters with these guys to escalate, especially as we get closer to our High Court hearing on 11 December. I expect that encounters with volunteers are not going to be a problem!

This morning, by internal form for 10 Downing Street, Declan emailed Prime Minister Tony Blair regarding St Mungo's. We of course don't expect a reply, but the email serves to beef up our narrative heading for the court.

Dear Prime Minister,

Further to my telephone conversation this afternoon with Christine Adeyoola, Assistant Private Secretary to the Minister for Housing and Planning, I wish to complain that whilst my wife and I have been sleeping rough in Tower Hamlets (since 3 November), we have been waiting for St Mungo's, London's largest homelessness organisation, to provide us with a referral to a night shelter.

On 18 November (at 4.05am), my wife was assaulted where we bed down at night. A full account of this assault is contained in her blog at

Please would you advise if the matter of a dereliction of duty of care on the part of St Mungo's falls within the remit of your office.

I can confirm that on 20 November I spoke to the PA to St Mungo's CEO Charles Fraser, but to no avail; on 23 November the Private Secretary to Tower Hamlets Council Leader Cllr Denise Jones informed me that my complaint was outside the remit of the Council; and this morning Ms Adeyoola advised that my complaint was outside the remit of the office of Minister for Housing and Planning Yvette Cooper MP.

On 11 December I am before Mr Justice Walker in the High Court of Justice Administrative Court in London for an oral hearing for permission to apply for Judicial Review against the Department for Work and Pensions. This follows the decision by Birmingham Erdington Jobcentre Plus to terminate my joint claim for Jobseekers Allowance (from 19 September) because I did not sign my declaration that I was available for work on 27 September. I was not scheduled to sign on until two days later.

My wife and I signed on every second Friday, not every second Wednesday. Nonetheless, all my subsequent letters of complaint were ignored, including three letters to Secretary of State for Work and Pensions John Hutton MP.

Yours sincerely,
Declan Heavey

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Our documentation is targeted

There were no gales or gusts last night, contrary to the Metro newspaper forecast on Friday. We got back to our patch earlier than usual at 9.30pm just in case. I was actually looking forward to witnessing some dramatic weather! As it turned out, last night was no different than any other night, only colder.

I had been sleeping with three layers of clothing covering my legs, the outer one being the jeans the nun in charge of clothes in the Dellow Centre gave me two weeks ago. The jeans are now broken and I can't risk sleeping in them. It means I woke many times during the night with cold legs. Of course, I wouldn't have been so cold if the Whitechapel Mission had given me the jeans I had been asking them for ever since I was landed with what I've got. I have yet to come across a charity shop for second-hand clothes so that I can buy a half-decent pair of jeans for a few pounds. So much for the Whitechapel Mission offering "the largest clothing store in London available to the homeless".

Yesterday we uploaded my blog from an internet café - the library closes at 6.00pm on a Saturday. After that, we went to McDonalds for one coffee between the two of us, as we normally do at night. This time, however, I was told the coffee machine was not working. Before we left, Declan asked if the two people drinking coffee at the table next to us got the last two cups. He was informed they did, and that the machine will be out of action for the rest of night!

This morning things got quite aggressive for us in the Whitechapel Mission. Declan was about to get up for the toilet to wash when a homeless guy in his late twenties demanded that he give him one of our bags on the floor - he only wanted the bag. Declan explained to him as best he could why he wasn't in a position to part with the bag, but the guy wouldn't give up.

We have never had any problems in the mission before so I suspected this was a set up, and that the guy was itching for a fight. I stood up and gave him a plastic bag from my rucksack. He then muttered something and went about his business. He didn't bother us anymore but we were both aware that one of his friends had been stalking our baggage until he left.

We had the same problem in the library Idea Store Whitechapel – guys more interested in our rucksacks than the books on the shelves – until Declan started to tie our bags together with electrical wire. We also tie them at night in the patch, and from now on we are going to do the same in the Whitechapel Mission.

Interestingly, yesterday afternoon there was a fire alert in the library. While Declan was untying our rucksacks, a security guard stood over him insisting that he speed himself up. It turned out to be a false alarm. Five minutes later everybody was back in the building.

It's very clear to us that our rucksacks are being targeted, and no doubt our documentation in particular. Who on earth is interested in the bags of two homeless people that sleep rough at night? It was our documentation that was the first thing that the two policemen asked us for the first time we were interrogated at night. Rough sleeping without any documentation is the surest way to end up in police custody. Tough new anti-terrorist laws have given the police tremendous power.

It also seems clear to us why St Mungo's hasn't given us the referral we need to get into a night shelter, notwithstanding that Declan has spoken to the PA to the CEO of St Mungo's (Charles Fraser) and the Private Secretary to the Leader of Tower Hamlets Council (Cllr Denise Jones), and has emailed the Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper MP).

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Gangster politics

Last night was quite windy. From inside my sleeping bag I could see autumn leaves flying down the street. One even flew under the rucksack that serves as my pillow. There was also some rain here and there – tiny drops fell for a few seconds on my face. I was still sweating inside my sleeping bag due to my cold, but this time I took off my coat and slept much better.

Bravehost, a leading web hosting provider, is still giving us trouble. They suspended our NAC website on 15 November, only to put it back the next day after I emailed them for an explanation. According to them, it was a problem with their servers! They have now introduced the letter "o" just before their ads at the bottom of all our pages. It looks like it is a fault of the person who designed the website (me). I will email them again tomorrow.

Things in the library Idea Store Whitechapel got better after I blogged about them (21 November), but only lasted a day. Staff still chat away at the help desk about 5 metres away from where I work about their religious beliefs, their plans for the weekend, their job, etc. The computer beside me can rarely be booked by us – it's that popular. Among the people that use it (all Muslim, with the exception of a few Spanish), some murder the keyboard, others talk over the phone, sometimes they even come in groups of two and three, all wanting to use the computer almost at the same time. At the moment I have beside me a young Muslim woman – she has been on the computer three hours – hitting the keyboard so hard I'm surprised nobody has complained to a member of staff.

The area we are in, Tower Hamlets, has the highest Muslim population in the country, 36.4%. This library, it seems, employs 95% Muslims and most of floor 1 contains Islamic books. I haven't found one single book on secularism, atheism or even humanism.

I was quite affected when I learnt that Alexander Litvinenko – secret agent turned fierce critic of Russia's President Vladimir Putin – died in hospital here on 23 November. Somehow I thought he was going to recover and become a big embarrassment for the Russian President. The fact that Putin thought he could get away with it is pretty revealing. He actually thought a diplomatic incident between Russia and the UK preferable to the prospect of Litvinenko spilling beans. Could Litvinenko's investigation of the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya on 7 October have had anything to do with it?

The former foreign minister of the Chechen government in exile in the UK was a visitor to Litivinenko's bedside. He accused the Kremlin of exporting "gangster politics" to London. Surely we could accuse the British government of gangster politics in relation to us? It seems running a network of those abused by church doesn't get you killed, yet with the level of surveillance we are under, and the all too obvious destructive intent of the Metropolitan Police towards us, it doesn't seem we're that far off.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone joined multi-faith speakers at the Methodist Central Hall on 20 November to defend freedom of religious expression. I wonder if the Mayor would be as sympathetic to the cause of those who consider themselves abused by church, be they right-to-die campaigners, gays, stem cell research supporters, or even non-religious people who consider their rights subordinated to those of the religious.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Email to the Minister for Housing and Planning

Again last night, it was very hot inside my sleeping bag. My bad throat is getting better, though, thanks to the non-prescription medication Declan has me taking. We again brought cardboard all the way from the Whitechapel Road to our patch - a walk of 40 minutes. We found this cardboard at the back of the new London Muslim Centre, a huge building that can hold 10,000 people. It appears the Blair government is throwing a lot of money the Muslim way these days.

Muslim leaders are calling for 150 private Muslim schools to be state-funded. No doubt, next they will be sitting in the House of Lords as unelected religious leaders (with full voting rights), just as 26 unelected Church of England bishops currently do. Perhaps that would suit the Christian hierarchy just fine, given the fact that Islam also prohibits euthanasia, abortion and gay marriage. (I don't think they have a clear position on embryonic stem cell research just yet.) It's not looking good for human rights in general, if you ask me.

Would it be preferable if schools, hospitals and other institutions of state were secular? Terry Sanderson, vice-president of the National Secular Society, thinks so. "We must secularise all the institutions of state," he told The Times last month. "It may take generations, but we must make it difficult for any religion to take any kind of power. Religion is never satisfied until it is in charge."

This afternoon Declan emailed Minister for Housing and Planning Yvette Cooper about St Mungo's. We don't really expect a reply, but no one will be able to say we didn't email her.

Dear Minister,

Further to my telephone conversation yesterday afternoon with your Assistant Private Secretary, Ms Christine Adeyoola, I wish to complain that whilst my wife and I have been sleeping rough in Tower Hamlets (for the past three weeks), we have been waiting for St Mungo's, London's largest homelessness organisation, to provide us with a referral to a night shelter.

In the early hours of last Saturday morning (at 4.05am), my wife was assaulted where we bed down at night. A full account of this assault is contained in her blog here.

Please would you advise if the matter of a dereliction of duty of care on the part of St Mungo's falls within the remit of your office.

I can confirm that last Monday I spoke to the PA to St Mungo's CEO Charles Fraser, but to no avail. Yesterday I spoke with the Private Secretary to Tower Hamlets Council Leader Cllr Denise Jones, who informed me that my complaint was outside the remit of the Council.

On 11 December I am before Mr Justice Walker in the High Court of Justice Administrative Court in London for an oral hearing for permission to apply for Judicial Review against the Department for Work and Pensions. This follows the decision by Birmingham Erdington Jobcentre Plus to terminate my joint claim for Jobseekers Allowance (from 19 September) because I did not sign my declaration that I was available for work on 27 September. I was not scheduled to sign on until two days later.

My wife and I signed on every second Friday, not every second Wednesday. Nonetheless, all my subsequent letters of complaint were ignored, including three letters to Secretary of State for Work and Pensions John Hutton MP.

Yours sincerely,
Declan Heavey

Rough sleepers like us could be in trouble this weekend. It's reported in this morning's Metro newspaper that Britain "will be battered by potentially dangerous gales and gusts of up to 120kph (75mph) this weekend". Great!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Phone call to the Minister for Housing and Planning

I got a sore throat yesterday evening and spent all night sweating in my sleeping bag. I wanted to take off my coat, but feared I would fall asleep and get a chill. So the only luxury I gave myself was to put my left arm outside the sleeping bag, which felt much better.

It doesn't help that the food we eat is really unhealthy. There is no fruit or vegetables – just saturated fats. In the Whitechapel Mission, you pay 45p for a made-up breakfast of baked beans, two sausages, two fried eggs and two slices of toasted white bread; there's also any amount of coffee or tea for free (a big plus). I wasn't shocked to learn that the life expectancy of a homeless person is 44 years.

Food from the Dellow Centre is far worse. Their staple diet these days is a plastic cup of cheap orange juice, some cereal (cornflakes, wheatabix or maybe porridge), a cup of soup (if we're lucky), up to four slices of toasted white bread, and a maximum of two cups of coffee or tea; there's also a white bread cheese sandwich "for later". Three weeks ago there was some variety - maybe a bowl of fruit, some tomatoes, a Marks and Spencers treat, a chicken sandwich, or whatever - but not any longer.

To save money I was keeping my sandwich and Declan's sandwich for my dinner, together with a banana or other fruit that Declan would buy in Sainsburys. I'm not hungry by lunchtime, so all I would have mid-afternoon is a banana and a couple of donuts (they're cheap at 12p each). I'm getting so sick of the cheese sandwiches that a couple of nights ago it took me 45 minutes to eat one - all the way from the library to where we bed down at night. Last night Declan insisted that I throw the sandwiches in a bin and eat half of his dinner (a large roll with cheap sardines), which I gladly did because I was so hungry.

This morning in the Dellow I didn't bother with their takeaway cheese sandwich. I can't even eat their white bread toasted anymore. While I was in the queue for breakfast, the guy in front of me was given two pieces of chicken. When I asked for some chicken too, I was told he had gotten the last piece. The Dellow is hardly worth the effort - sometimes queuing for over twenty minutes to get in at 9am - when we could be in the Whitechapel Mission until 11.00am and then cross the road and walk straight into the library.

Declan and I used to spend a couple of hours in Crisis, a non-religious organisation for the homeless. We would have access to a computer, the internet for one hour, and free prints. Declan printed our blog there but since the printer stopped functioning (at least, that is what we were told) and we discovered that they are all rapt up in the Dellow Centre, we don't bother going there anymore. We now spend all our time in the library, from 12.30pm to 8.30pm. I love to read when I'm not on a computer, so I'm quite happy with this new arrangement. We also use the library to work on my blog. I need Declan to correct my English because I'm Spanish (from Madrid) and my written English leaves a lot to be desired.

Today in the Whitechapel Mission Declan was given a plastic bag with some clothes for me – two pairs of jeans, a belt and a pair of gloves. I had to return both pairs of jeans because neither fitted. Declan is tired of this cat and mouse game and has given me money to buy a second-hand pair of jeans in a charity shop. Hopefully, there's one within walking distance for us.

Personally, I think it's outrageous that I have to spend money we don't have on a pair of jeans when the Whitechapel Mission boasts on their website that they "offer the largest clothing store in London available to the homeless". It's not like I'm looking for a perfect fit!

St Mungo's Contact and Assessment Team (CAT) hasn't visited us at night either; and this despite the fact that Declan has spoken to the PA to St Mungo's CEO Charles Fraser. According to their annual review, St Mungo's had a turnover of £37.2m last year. The Sisters of Mercy-run Dellow Centre doesn't publish financial information on their website; but, with a patron like the Duke of Norfolk and well-known donors such as L'Oreal, Marks and Spencers and Lush, no doubt they have quite a healthy turnover too. Surely they could offer us homeless better food.

More important from our point of view is St Mungo's and its statutory partners, one of which is the Department for Work and Pensions. It was the DWP that made us homeless. They also name the Metropolitan Police as a statutory partner. It's no wonder we can't get this charity to give us the referral we need to get into a night shelter.

This morning Declan phoned the Department for Communities and Local Government to complain about St Mungo's. Initially, he was told that he needed to deal with Tower Hamlets Council. However, he spoke with Angela Grazette, Private Secretary to Tower Hamlets Council Leader Cllr Denise Jones. This afternoon Grazette phoned Declan back to inform him that his complaint against St Mungo's does not fall within the remit of the Council, and that he should direct the complaint back to the Department for Communities and Local Government, and the office of the Minister for Housing and Planning in particular. Declan then spoke to Christine Adeyoola, Assistant Private Secretary to Minister for Housing and Planning Yvette Cooper.

Adeyoola told him to put his complaint in writing to the Minister.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Catholic Church and freedom of expression

Last night was as cold as the previous night, and I have pain in my legs from it. As predicted, the police turned up – only not at our patch. As we were preparing to bed down, we heard two of them across the road, chatting with two guys. We decided to get into our sleeping bags straight away and wait until they were gone before sorting things – just in case they thought we were in a chatty mood too!

It was about 20 minutes before the two policemen left the street. So, yes, as we suspected yesterday, they are growing increasingly impatient with their lack of harassment of us over the past few days.

Just like two of nights ago, Declan didn't find any cardboard in the skip nearby, which usually has plenty of it. This time, however, he was prepared and had brought lots of it from the Whitechapel Road. So it seems somebody went to some trouble for nothing.

The Whitechapel Mission didn't have any clothes for me this morning either, despite it being women's clothes day. Although they advertise their clothes store by the front door, a member of staff asked me what I wanted her to get me. I don't buy that the homeless in the Whitechapel Mission (and there are some who you wouldn't know are homeless) are all dressed top to bottom by members of staff, and with whatever they want to dress them up in. It doesn't sound practical, for a start.

I do believe, however, that I am being excluded from choosing my own clothes. Obviously, if I can see the clothes first, I am going to take good, nice, comfortable and warm clothes. But they don't seem happy about me doing that.

Anyway, I told the member of staff (a Polish woman) what I needed most: a pair of jeans, belt and gloves. She told me to wait, which I did until we couldn't wait any longer. I had to leave a message with another member of staff (the Polish woman was nowhere to be seen) to the effect that I couldn't wait any longer and that I will collect whatever she has for me tomorrow morning.

As we were walking towards the Dellow Centre, Declan said that as far as the staff in the Whitechapel Mission are concerned, we are bringing it all on ourselves. My answer to their misplaced attitude is that I have a right to freedom speech. I would be in jail by now if I didn't have it.

We have a right to run an organisation that believes in secular government and science, and that campaigns for reproductive rights (including the legalisation of abortion), the use of condoms (especially in the fight against AIDS), embryonic stem cell research, voluntary euthanasia, gay rights, and more. We do not incite violence.

The Catholic Church is inconsistent on liberty, democracy and freedom of expression. In an article published by the International Herald Tribune on 19 August 2005, the journalists point out that Pope Benedict XVI himself links contemporary liberal democracy with fascism. In my opinion, nothing threatens the authority of the Church more than liberal democracy.

At the heart of liberal democracy lies the fundamental principles of reason, free inquiry and freedom of speech; whilst, for the Catholic Church, it is the subordination of individual freedom to the teachings of the Church.

I would like to know what kind of credibility the Catholic Church has when it comes to democracy in particular, especially in light of its horrific history of oppression and barbarity. The Inquisition and the persecution of Galileo aside, there are countless recent atrocities to choose from. For example, the association of the Church with European fascism, not only in Spain but in Italy and Germany. Or the complicity of the Catholic hierarchy in the horrors of Argentina's military rule that "disappeared" up to 30,000 citizens from 1976-83. Even closer in time is the ongoing sexual abuse scandal, with the extensive role of bishops in silencing victims, blocking investigations and facilitating abuse by moving offenders around the place.

The list of atrocities by the Catholic Church against democracy, freedom of speech and human rights is without doubt endless.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Alexander Litvinenko’s situation and ours

Last night was very cold. Despite the fact that I wear three layers of clothing for my legs, I keep waking up with pain all through them from the cold; the rest of my body remains more or less warm throughout the night. One of the times I woke up – it must have been about 5.00am – I saw 5 or 6 silhouettes flying above me. For a moment I thought they were bats, until I realised they were pigeons. They sleep on the ledge of the building in front of our patch. They're rough sleepers too!

It would appear the police are growing increasingly impatient with their lack of harassment of us over the past few days. Last night when Declan went to his usual place to collect cardboard, there was nothing there except an out-of-place van. He had no sooner turned to return to our patch, when the van took off. I wouldn't be surprised if the police pay us a fourth visit tonight.

No St Mungo's Contact and Assessment Team (CAT) visited us last night either, despite that Declan spoke yesterday with the PA to St Mungo's CEO Charles Fraser. He obviously couldn't care less about our predicament (not even that I was assaulted in the patch in the early hours of the morning last Saturday), notwithstanding that he has a duty of care in relation to us. It seems not to matter a jot to him that St Mungo's is a charity that receives donations from people who supposedly would like to see homeless people off the street.

Tomorrow is women's clothes day in the Whitechapel Mission. When we left the mission today, we saw plenty of large plastic bags full of clothes in the main hallway of the building. They're going to have difficulty telling me tomorrow that they don't have any women's clothes, as they told me last Wednesday.

Yesterday morning in the Dellow Centre, the nun in charge of clothes was going around handing out plastic bags full clothes to many homeless, like it was Christmas day. And yet I knew that had I asked her for what I need (which she already knows anyway), she would have given me more or less what she gave me two weeks ago. Then she gave me an old pair of jeans that were way too big for me, a pink shirt and a white jumper. Why would I bother?

These religious organisations (the Missionaries of Charity, St Mungo's, the Dellow Centre and the Whitechapel Mission) don't seem too concerned about me reporting in this blog some of the things they try out on us. Maybe it's because they don't believe we can or will survive; and that they are convinced that when our judicial review renewal hearing comes up in the High Court on 11 December, the judge is going to dismiss our case and we won't be able to appeal him. On the appeal, they are seriously mistaken. Declan has everything he needs from the Civil Appeals Office (including a blank Appellant's notice), and we are confident we can file any sort of appeal within a week. It would surely be a first: two rough sleepers filing an appeal against a High Court judge. It would certainly add to our story, given how we were made homeless by the Department for Work and Pensions on 3 November.

The back of floor 3 in the Idea Store Whitechapel library is becoming akin to some sort of communal meeting spot. Staff and security guards meet at the help desk for a chat and a few laughs. Somebody at the moment is shouting on the phone!

Declan, who normally sits on a sofa near my desk, has just told me that two members of staff were having a great chat beside him. I am wearing earplugs, so all I can hear is what is around me. Now all I hear is staff at the help desk.

Declan reckons that he is supposed to confront this staff with the fact that this is a library and could they ever shut up. Then a security guard comes and blah, blah, blah. We have have been dealing with these sort of plays for confrontation for years, so obviously we are not going to fall prey to it here. Declan has become particularly good at avoiding these sort of situations. Anybody interested in the methods and techniques the police use to neutralise targets should read about the COINTELPRO operations, a series of counterintelligence programs designed by the FBI. In particular, the sort of the things the FBI were doing around the time of the American civil rights movement.

I've been following the news about Alexander Litvinenko, a former KBG colonel and harsh critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He fled Russia and now lives in the UK. However, he fell ill on 1 November after a meeting in a London sushi bar. John Henry, a clinical toxicologist, who examined Litvinenko, told the BBC there was no doubt he had been poisoned by thallium (a colourless rat poison), probably in the bar. Friends said Litvinenko had "no doubt that he was poisoned at the instigation of the Russian government".

I do find similarities between Litvinenko's situation and ours. He was poisoned because he is a harsh critic of the Russian President. We, on the other hand, are homeless, sleeping rough and harassed by the police because we are harsh critics of Catholic Church in particular. There is one significant difference, though. Whilst Litvinenko was granted political asylum by the UK government in 2001, it is the UK government that is trying to take us out.

Monday, November 20, 2006

What are you going to do about it?

Another quiet night. However, it was very cold and rainy and I kept waking up with pain in my legs from the cold. I don't have any more clothes to wear, but, even if I had, I wouldn't be able to put them on. I can hardly move in my sleeping bag! Declan also brings lots of cardboard from a nearby skip. We're still waiting for the night when all the cardboard has been removed and he has go for a long walk to find something to buffer us from the cold of the hard tiled floor of the porch we bed down in every night.

This morning Declan insisted we do a laundry. I wasn't that keen because it meant leaving the Whitechapel Mission before 8.30am (breakfast starts at 8.00am) to be the first in the queue at the Dellow Centre when it opens at 9.15am. Lately, we have experienced difficulties doing our laundry. Either the washing machines are booked or we have to wait until 10.45am. When it is the latter, we can't wash our jeans and have to return to the centre to collect the washing from the dryer at 1.15pm. That's pretty much half the the day shot and lots of walking... for no washed jeans!

While waiting outside the Dellow Centre, there was a homeless woman in the queue with a dog. (There is a homeless guy in the Whitechapel Mission who also has a dog. The other day somebody untied it from where it was and there was almost a fight.) The dog in the queue reminded me of the dog we had for over 9 years. We were forced to put him down two days before leaving Dublin for England. It was made very clear to us that he was never going to survive in this country.

This morning Declan spoke to Linda Lockyer, PA to St Mungo's CEO Charles Fraser. Further to the message he left for Fraser on her voice mail last Friday, Declan informed her that: I was assaulted in the early hours of Saturday morning where we bed down at night; that it's getting cold and rainy; and that having been sleeping rough for over two weeks now, we would appreciate a visit from our St Mungo's Contact and Assessment Team (CAT) for the referral we need to get into a night shelter. Her response was "OK". Having actually spoken to Fraser's PA, it remains to be seen how he will deal with us now, if at all.

The Missionaries of Charity are the only ones that do self-referral in London. We are not phoning them again until we have saved £10.00. The last time Declan phoned them was on 15 November. Not only did we spend an additional £2.50 phoning their two night shelters, but when Declan phoned back the female night shelter to establish when was the latest time they could meet me (both shelters had confirmed we each had a place), a nun told him there was no vacancy. We are concerned the next time they are going to have us travelling across London (each to different locations), only for one of us to be turned away at the door. These nuns are behaving very much like, "What are you going to do about it?" Perhaps they feel very confident that they can get away with just about anything on the back of their founder.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Henry VIII and his predicament with his first wife

Last night was another quiet night. My feet are blowing up and my two small toes are deformed, although they don't hurt.

Today breakfast at the Whitechapel Mission became a bit of a circus. Alcohol is not permitted, but this guy arrived with a beer anyway. He was so drunk that he started dancing and singing while everybody else was trying to eat – some were even asleep because last night was so cold.

It's very easy to spot the hard drinkers in the Mission. They hardly have the coordination to put food in their mouths, and are dirty and unshaven. Alcohol is a killer of an addiction - it destroys everything that is human.

On the subject of the Whitechapel Mission, ever since I wrote that I watch with intent the weather forecast on Sky News, they have turned the TV over to the Discovery Channel. Really, is there anything on television more removed from the life of homeless people than what is to be found on the Discovery Channel in the early hours of the morning?! The guys here must agree with me too, because there is not a single person (that includes among the staff) that watches TV anymore. The mission should know how easy it is to get the weather forecast on the internet.

Today, while reading the History Today magazine in the library (oops, now it too will disappear), I learnt that the British public supported Edward VIII in 1936 and that he could have married American divorcee Wallis Simpson and still be King. Surely that can only mean that the majority of British people support secular government? In 2000, the Liberal Democrats voted overwhelmingly in favour of ending the Queen's right to be head of the Church of England. I didn't know that.

The Queen as supreme head of the Church of England was actually a by-product of King Henry VIII's obsession with producing a male heir. By 1530 Henry's wife, Catherine of Aragon, was too old to have any more children and the need to maintain dynasty legitimacy forced Henry to seek an annulment from Pope Clement VII in order to marry Anne Boleyn. The Pope stalled on the issue for seven years without making a final judgement, partially because he was a virtual prisoner of Catherine's nephew King Charles of Spain, who had conquered Rome.

Things came to a head in 1533 when Anne Boleyn became pregnant. Henry had to act, and his solution was to reject the power of the Pope in England and to have Thomas Cranmer, the archbishop of Canterbury, declare his marriage to Catherine invalid. The Pope responded with excommunication, and parliamentary legislation enacting Henry's decision to break with the Roman Catholic Church soon followed. The Act of Supremacy in 1534 named Henry "the only supreme head of the Church of England".

Today, Britain's parliament shares a feature with the elected assemblies of an Islamic republic: every day's proceedings start with a prayer. The House of Lords is the only legislature in the world where unelected Christian bishops (26 of them) have full voting rights. However, the UK is widely regarded as one of the least religious countries in the world with fewer than 8% going to church. And yet Britain is far from secular. The government defers to the religious at every turn, such as funding more than 7000 'faith schools', which accounts for one-third of all the state schools. The majority are Christian but other faiths have sought and won equal treatment. There are at least 36 Jewish, seven Muslim and two Sikh state-funded schools. Muslims are seeking funding for a further 150 schools.

It is interesting to note that the Queen at her coronation was asked, "Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law?" To which she replied, "All this I promise and do." Prince Charles is known to be keen to modernise the monarchy and has spoken about being a "defender of faiths" rather than the present oath which makes the monarch the "Defender of the [Christian] Faith". He has also told senior staff that he would want his coronation to be a "multi-faith" experience in contrast to the heavily Christian service of his mother's coronation in 1952. Does that mean that the House of Lords is going to become multi-faith too, and unelected leaders of the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Sikh, and other religious communities are also going to be given full voting rights?

According to the UK National Secular Society, there should be a clear distinction between state and religion, as there is supposed to be in the US and France. The US is the best example of a country founded on a separation of church and state. The first amendment to its constitution reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting free expression thereof." Christopher Hitchens, the US-based British writer, is convinced that the American way is best and argues this in his book God is Not Great, which will be published next spring.

French Enlightenment thinkers such as Voltaire, Diderot and Montesquieu regarded religion as divisive, benighted and intolerant. Surely the fact that Declan and I are now sleeping rough in London (not to mention that I was assaulted in our patch at 4.05am yesterday morning), is one morsel of evidence that this is truth?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

I am assaulted on our patch

Despite Declan's phone call to St Mungo's CEO Charles Fraser's office yesterday (he left a message for Fraser on his PA's voice mail), no St Mungo's Contact and Assessment Team (CAT) visited us last night with the referral we need to get into a night shelter. Rather, I was assaulted on our patch whilst I was sleeping.

Early in the morning I am woken by some guy shouting aggressively some distance from our patch. As the shouting becomes louder, I know he is heading towards us. (Our patch is located down a relatively quiet, well lit side street. It is a porch that serves as a side entrance to an office building, and is also well lit by hall lights that shine through a glass door. Anyone passing by can see us, even in a car.)

I stick my head out of the sleeping bag and open my eyes. Declan does the same. As the guy walks past, I can see he is stocky, in his thirties, and shouting at a mobile phone. He keeps walking down the street and Declan and I go back to sleep. However, about an hour later I hear the same voice, still shouting – although not as loud. Then, all of a sudden, he sits on the right hand side of my face. (I am half-asleep on the outside, on my back). By the time I realise what has happened, the guy is gone. There is no shouting, no noise, just silence.

The guy actually had to negotiate two steps before sitting on my face; meaning, as far as I am concerned, that he knew exactly what he was doing. My head was well inside my sleeping bag (protected by it), but if he had got his landing wrong, he could have done me quite a bit of damage - either to my nose or my neck. The incident woke Declan. He turned around on the inside (where he protects all our belongs) to ask me if something had happened.

Declan also left his glasses in the Idea Store Whitechapel library yesterday afternoon - just before it closed at 6pm. We were convinced that if the staff had found them, he would never get them back. Ever since our first day at this library, staff and security guards have let us know what kind of instructions they are getting. For example, when a member of staff books us a computer, it's not uncommon to find that we can't use it because the mouse or something is not working; or we are given a computer on floors other than where we are so that we end up having to negotiate all four floors with all our belongings before the day is out. Yesterday at 5.30pm we were told to remove our bags from the spot we had them because they were blocking the heat. After we removed the bags, I put my hand on where the heat was supposed to be coming from and there was nothing. There wasn't even air!

So when Declan lost his glasses, we were convinced they were gone and that he would have to go to the Whitechapel Mission to see if there would be any way he could get another pair. I just can't imagine the obstacles we would have encountered. I can't even get a pair of jeans from the Mission; and, according to their website, they run "the largest clothing store in London available to the homeless".

However, we were lucky. Declan got into the library as soon as it opened at 9.00am, and went straight to the 2nd floor. There, on the corner of the table, were his glasses. The staff hadn't spotted them at all! To celebrate the happy ending, we bought a few donuts in Sainsburys and took a walk around the nearby market.

Tower Hamlets has the highest Muslim population in the country, 36.4%. The new London Muslim Centre, an extension to the East London Mosque, can hold 10,000 worshippers. In Idea Store Whitechapel, 95% of the staff are Muslim; almost a whole floor is dedicated to the Islamic religion; and when you fill in their membership form under "Ethnicity", white is the last option. Not that I have much of problem with it, really. I quite like all the Muslim stalls along the Whitechapel Road, where you can buy cheap stuff (notwithstanding that most things don't have a price tag).

My only point is that the Islamic religion is becoming a force in the UK. And if Muslim leaders are to get the same special treatment as their Christian counterparts, homeless organisations may find a shift in the reasons for homelessness. They may find that the reason some homeless provide for their predicament is that they are no more than campaigning for secular government. I'm being facetious, of course. But only partly.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Phone call to the CEO of St Mungo’s

Last night was quiet - no visit from the police. We usually get up at 6am. I tidy up (roll the sleeping bags, etc.), whilst Declan piles the cardboard to return to the nearby skip. I find it so amusing to watch him pile the cardboard in groups of the same size - anybody walking past sees neat piles of cardboard stacked along the wall. Declan says it's easier to carry it all in one go, but I know he loves organising things.

After breakfast in the Whitechapel Mission, we arrived at the gates of the Dellow Centre at 9.15am, only to be told that the centre was closed because of a flooding. (Did somebody put a stopper in the sink and then forget to turn off the water?) All the homeless thought there was something fishy going on. I, too, have my own opinion on the matter; but, after losing my bet with Declan the night before last, I'm not saying anything.

I rely on the Dellow Centre to clean my teeth, wash and apply a touch of make-up. (I had a very nice collection of make-up products by MAC, Stila, Prescriptives, Bobbi Brown, etc. which I had to dump on my first day homeless in London, together with all my Origins range of facial care.) From now on, I am going to do all my pampering in the Whitechapel Mission. You can't even rely on the Dellow Centre to open Monday to Friday from 9.15am to 11.30am.

We were on our way to the library when Declan decided to phone the chief executive of St Mungo's (a Catholic organisation) for the referral we need for a night shelter. The Dellow Centre will not put in another request on our behalf to have our St Mungo's Contact and Assessment Team (CAT) visit us again at our patch because, according to the Dellow, our CAT has told them there is nothing they can do for us. Declan has already phoned the CAT to inform them that we are still at our patch waiting for the referral. If Declan wasn't pursuing this CAT, the police would have moved us on by now.

The first time Declan tries to get through to St Mungo's CEO Charles Fraser, he is told nobody is in the office; not even his PA, Linda Lockyer. He is asked what his call is about and is passed to complaints. After providing someone in complaints with background information, Declan is told he will be phoned back at the public phone from which he made the call, but this never happens. Declan has to phone again, this time asking to be put straight through to Lockyer's voice mail. He leaves a message for Fraser to the effect that if St Mungo's dereliction of duty in relation to us is to continue, he will be inquiring as to where he should take his complaint. Prior to that last part of the message, Declan provides him with his name and patch address, and confirms that we were visited and verified as rough sleepers almost two weeks ago but nobody from St. Mungo's has visited us since then.

The cost of the phone calls came to almost £3.00.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Third visit by the police

Last night, Declan and I were visited by the police a third time. Our NAC website was also suspended yesterday, so we were not expecting a quiet night. And we sure didn't get one!

We arrived at our patch - a porch that serves as a side entrance to an office building - at about 11.00pm. It was like a disco! The whole building was lit up; and the porch alarm flashed a blue light without a sound. We had a bet. Declan reckoned we were going to be visited by the police. I reckoned we were being threatened by a late-working employee who doesn't like homeless people sleeping on the porch of the building in which he works, and that it was his intention to summon the police if we didn't move on promptly.

Plausible as my theory was, Declan was right. Between 11.00pm and 11.45pm, a police car passed us six times. The fourth time it actually stopped for a few seconds. We were then no sooner in our sleeping bags than a police officer turned up on foot. He points his baton at the alarm and asks what is the story with the flashing blue light. Then it was question time. Have either of us ever been arrested? Are we leaving the spot clean in the mornings? Are we having any problems with people from the buildings around? How long have we been sleeping rough on the porch? These were just some of the questions. Before leaving, he asked to see the tickets the two police officers issued us last Saturday night.

At about 4.00am, the same police officer returned. This time he is in a police car. He shouts to wake us up and asks if anybody from the building has left. I say no and he leaves, but only to return a few seconds later. When I look up, he is talking from inside the police car with a security guard – both looking with great interest at the flashing blue light. Then they leave. Declan slept through all of this bit! I had to tell him about it in the morning.

So although Declan won the bet (now I have to give him my next free McDonald's coffee), my theory stands for another night. We are expecting an increase in police activity as we approach our High Court judicial review renewal hearing against the Department for Work and Pensions on 11 December. This follows the termination of our unemployment benefit from 19 September because Declan did not sign on two days before he was actually scheduled to do so.

The Whitechapel Mission didn't have any clothes to give me today either; and this, despite the fact that yesterday was women's clothes day. I was told next Wednesday it will be women's clothes as usual.

Today at 1.30pm, when I accessed a computer in our local library, I found an email from Bravehost about the suspension of our NAC website yesterday. It was a problem with their servers, they say. That cuts no ice with me. How can a problem with servers result in a suspended website? Anyway, NAC is back!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

NAC website suspended

Last night at our patch, while Declan was out collecting some cardboard, a guy came to me and gave me £1.00.

I only know of two ways homeless people can make a bit of money: begging (which is illegal in the UK) or selling The Big Issue magazine. There is also, of course, stealing, mostly used by drug users. When it comes to The Big Issue, we don't see how we can sell it. Are we supposed to drag all our belongings, including our sleeping bags, along to The Big Issue office, collect a bunch of magazines, and then head off to two pitches where we leave all our belongings beside us as we try to sell them? It seems so unrealistic in our current circumstances, especially in London.

Our first choice when we came to London was to stay around Central London, where we would have easier access to alternatives for food, and even The Big Issue office itself. We also thought it would not be too difficult to get into a night shelter, where we would not only have a bed but a place to leave at least two sleeping bags and our clothes.

After the Dellow Centre sent us to The Passage near Victoria Station (a day centre run by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul and Westminster Cathedral), and they told us more or less to return to Birmingham, it occurred to us that we may very well be left sleeping rough. Thinking that Central London may be too dangerous for that, we decided to move out to Tower Hamlets, close to the Whitechapel Mission – the only day centre in London that opens at 6am.

So here we are now, still sleeping rough. Our St Mungo's Contact and Assessment Team (CAT) refuses to visit us at night with the referral we need for a night shelter. And the only self-referral shelters are run by the Missionaries of Charity - one for men and one for women - but they do not appear to have the slightest interest in sheltering me.

Declan phoned the Missionaries of Charity again this morning. The nun in charge of the women's shelter tells Declan there is a place for me. He then phones the men's shelter and a nun there tells him there is a 6-week vacancy. When he phones the women's shelter back to ask what is the latest they can meet me, he is told there is no vacancy. Did they intend dragging me across London only to then turn me away with Declan sheltered somewhere else? Either way, it was outrageous. There was less than five minutes between Declan's two calls to the women's shelter, and he had already been assured that my place was secure.

I feel so fortunate that Declan phoned the women's night shelter back. What a absolute nightmare I could have been looking at tonight, on my own in an area I am completely unfamiliar with. That last phone call cost us £2.50. In total, we spent well over £5.00 dealing the Missionaries of Charity in a public phone box - and all for nothing.

And then there's the Sisters of Mercy-run Dellow Centre, which will not phone our St Mungo's CAT again for the referral we need to get into a night shelter. Declan also had to spend money phoning the CAT himself, leaving a message to the effect that we are still at our registered patch and waiting for them to visit us.

Our escapades don't finish there. Wednesday is women's clothes day in the Whitechapel Mission. The few homeless women who turn up every morning at the Mission are all quite well dressed by establishment. So today I decided to ask for some clothes. The old blue jeans that the nun in the Dellow Centre gave me last week are already in bad shape, plus I need a belt and few other items of clothing. I am told they have nothing. When Declan asks the same worker what day is best for me to get the clothes I need, he is told to wait 20 minutes, that somebody will give me a pair of jeans or he should ask him again tomorrow. It turns out that he has to ask him again tomorrow.

I don't know how a non-religious organisation would behave in relation to us, but I don't believe even a non-religious organisation goes far enough. Crisis, a national charity we have been calling into in the evenings, is non-religious. And yet, whilst we were queuing outside the Dellow Centre this afternoon to collect some laundry, one of the Crisis workers walked straight into the centre and stayed there for almost the whole duration of our visit, which turned out to be well over 15 minutes.

What Declan and I need is an organisation that doesn't have the slightest interest in religious groups, an atheist organisation. But, of course, no such entity exists. Also, we are not naive enough to think that even if such an entity existed, everything would be plain sailing for us with them. But at least it might offer us some bit of respite.

8.30pm Update

This afternoon our NAC website was removed from the internet. All we get is that our site is a "Suspended Website", that it's "currently not active". We have emailed Bravehost for an explanation. I tried to upload the site all over again (the 1,938 files, including images), but I'm prevented from doing so. NAC hasn't been deleted, though. I can still access all the files in the server through my Bravehost Website Manager. I just can't view them.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Carrying around all our belongings

7.30am. We are at the Whitechapel Mission drinking some coffee and waiting for breakfast. I find myself listening to the weather forecast on Sky News as intently as if I was listening to the result of the general election. I can’t think of anything more important to a rough sleeper than the weather – unless, of course, you have an addiction.

A few days back, a Whitechapel Mission worker told us that in the 26 years he has worked in the mission, the low temperatures of the winter have killed thousands of homeless people and that the average life expectancy of the homeless is 44. However, I don’t think it is going to be an easy task trying to stop us from accessing one of the several rolling shelters that open yearly at the end of this month. These rolling shelters (luckily for us) accept self-referrals and therefore our St Mungo's CAT can’t stop us from accessing one.

Declan is desperate to get a haircut. We brought a hair clipper from Birmingham but Declan put it in the bin a few days ago. No point in carrying stuff you can’t use. Neither the Whitechapel Mission nor the Dellow Centre offers a hairdressing service. No wonder homeless people stick out, even in presentable clothes.

A group of polish rough sleepers we see in the Whitechapel Mission and the Dellow Centre are quite a resourceful bunch. They have their own hair clipper and yesterday started cutting each others’ hair in the Dellow Centre – despite it not being permitted – in the room used for watching TV or simply chilling out. Soon they had a queue of homeless guys, all wanting a haircut. By the time we realised what was going on, the queue was too big for Declan to join. If it wasn’t because homelessness is not a laughing matter, I would have found the spectacle hilarious. It shows how many homeless people are desperate to be discreet in public places like libraries, pubs, shops etc, and pass as normal people.

Declan and I are still carrying all our belongings along with us, including two sleeping bags. This is because neither our St Mungo’s CAT nor the Missionaries of Charity are willing to provide us with shelter for the night and therefore there is nowhere we can leave our stuff. That, of course, is a powerful reason to keep us sleeping rough. Our movements are seriously restricted and predictable – making surveillance extremely easy.

All the food handouts take place in central London (Trafalgar Square and Lincoln’s Inn, among others) but they are inaccessible to us. So, we keep the cheese sandwiches that the Dellow Centre gives us for breakfast until lunch, and then buy something for £1.50 between the two of us in Sainsbury for dinner. When in the library, we have to tidy all our things every time we have to move from one floor to another to use a booked computer.

Our day is very simple: early morning in the Whitechapel Mission for coffee and breakfast, from 9.30am to 11.30am in the Dellow Centre for another breakfast and shower, then it is to the library to type my blog into Microsoft Word, then we walk to Crisis where we can use a computer and have some coffee. Between 7.00pm and 8.00pm we go to Sainsbury to buy our dinner. Our last stop before returning to our patch is an internet café to update my blog.

12.30pm. Update

Before leaving the Dellow Centre at 11.30am, Declan asked at reception if the centre would put in another referral on our behalf to be visited again by our St Mungo’s CAT. He was informed that our case was raised by the centre in discussions with our CAT yesterday and that the centre would not refer us again because the CAT had said that there is nothing they can do for us. It appears our St Mungo’s CAT did not provide any reasons. The centre then confirmed that the Missionaries of Charity are the only ones accepting self-referrals. The centre could not confirm, however, that the rolling shelters that commence every year at the end of this month will also accept self-referrals.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Missionaries of Charity

Woken up at 5.00am by the sound of an alarm – this time not the one in our patch. Wasn’t sure if the alarm was the precursor to a visit from St Mungo's CAT. (The first time St Mungo’s CAT visited us the alarm in our patch went off for the whole duration of the 20 minute or so visit). Nobody came and I quickly got back to sleep.

St Mungo’s CAT hasn’t come to see us since they verified us on 7 Nov as rough sleepers. If the biggest organisation in London working with the homeless refuses to refer us to a night shelter, what chance have we got with anybody else? The vast majority of night shelters only accept homeless that have been referred by a CAT worker. Two of the few (if not the only) shelters that accept self-referral are run by the Missionaries of Charity – the religious order founded by Mother Teresa.

The Missionaries of Charity run two night shelters in London: “Gift of Love” for men and “Home of Peace” for women. Declan phoned the “Gift of Love” early on Saturday and Sunday after talking with a homeless guy in Crisis. On both occasions he was told there were no vacancies.

Today, Declan is told that they have a vacancy. We are almost convinced that tonight we are going to sleep in a bed. I don’t know the statistics on homeless women, but the numbers are smaller than for men. For example, the Whitechapel Mission only has one shower for homeless women, while the Dellow Centre has two (one of which is out of order).

So Declan phones the “Home of Peace”. He tells the nun that answers the phone that there is a vacancy for him in the “Gift of Love” and asks if there is a vacancy for me. He is told that there is, and then she asks for some background information: where do we come from, how long have we been sleeping rough, why are we sleeping rough … After Declan tells her about the termination of our unemployment benefit and that we have a High Court hearing on 11 Dec (what is the point in being vague and then interrogated at the front door?), she says there are no vacancies and phone again tomorrow. Then she hangs up – leaving us £2.50 poorer.

It is actually extremely easy to keep somebody in the street. As a homeless person, you need a day centre to put in a request for a CAT to visit you at your patch during the night. From there, the CAT refers you to a night shelter. But if the CAT tells you that there is nowhere you can be referred to, or that you need to be visited again (and you never are), there is little you can do.

For example, last Friday afternoon while we were in Crisis the same homeless guy told us about a rolling shelter run by St Mungo’s. Immediately Declan phoned the shelter and was told that if we had a referral from our St Mungo’s CAT, we would have had beds.

Your other option is a shelter that accepts self-referral. But the Missionaries of Charity don’t seem too interested in getting caught in a government agenda.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Interrogated by the police

Last night at 11pm we had a visit from two policemen; their van parked a few feet away. A policeman actually stopped for a few minutes at our patch the second night we were sleeping rough, his last word being that the weather should pick up for us come the spring!

Anyway, I was asleep. Thought I was going to get my first decent night’s sleep in a week. So, I open my eyes and see two dark figures standing beside me (I sleep on the outside) almost blending in with the darkness of the night. Declan is already starting to sit up in his sleeping bag, getting ready for a full-on interrogation.

After asking for some documentation, one of the policemen starts asking questions: where have we come from, how long have we been in London, how long sleeping rough, what were we doing before sleeping rough, whether either of us has ever been arrested … While this questioning is going on, the other policeman is silent, taking notes.

Then he asks Declan what else is he doing. (Surely this is not a question you ask a homeless person who is sleeping rough?) We assume he wants Declan to talk about my blog. Police seem keen on restricting freedom of speech.

After Declan informs him that our unemployment benefit was unlawfully suspended and then unlawfully terminated in the middle of judicial review proceedings, and that we have a renewal hearing on 11 Dec in the High Court in London, his questions become more provocative: what if the judge doesn’t reinstate, what if the Court of Appeal doesn’t reinstate, and then, rather than go for “straws in the wind”, why doesn’t Declan get a job, and why don’t I clean the buildings around our patch.

Before they leave the silent policeman gives Declan two tickets, one for him and one for me, each containing the name of the street our patch is in, and the reason they stopped, namely that we are “rough sleepers”. All throughout the 15-minute interrogation, Declan is cool as a cucumber – avoiding thus a trip to the police station.

Gene Sharp, described as “the man” when it comes to strategic non-violence, has written that police are experts in violence, and are trained to deal with opponents who use that method. He points out that using violence against “violence experts” is the quickest way to have your organisation or movement crushed.

There is no doubt that being homeless is quite a disadvantage. You can be searched for no particular reason, stopped and even thrown into a police van. No doubt the Department for Work and Pension was aware of this when they terminated our benefits.

Because we have been under surveillance for so many years now, I have made it my business to get to know police methods and techniques. Plenty of people are under surveillance: civil rights, anti-war and political groups.

From 1956 to 1971 the FBI conducted more than 2000 COINTELPRO operations (a series of counterintelligence programs designed to neutralise political dissidents) before the programs were officially discontinued in April of 1971, after public exposure, in order to “afford additional security to [their] sensitive techniques and operations”.

At the moment in the US, organisations are training anti-war activists (who attend marches) in the various forms of strategic non-violence to resist police provocation.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Can I have some clothes, please?

Friday, Nov 10 | It's now been a week since Declan and I started sleeping rough. It seems someone in St Mungo's has made the decision to leave us on the streets (on police instruction, no doubt), and at a time when the weather is getting worse. Rain and cold are in the forecast for later today and tonight.

Declan spent the night coughing and sniffing. And this morning, while we were queuing to get into the Dellow Centre, he tried clearing his sinuses but got a nose bleed - the first in more than 20 years. He is now on a regimen of scarves, library (no parks), and self-medication with lozenges and non-prescription tablets.

Every Friday night at Trafalgar Square hot food and soft drinks are handed out to homeless people from two vans. It's very popular and attracts a large crowd. It's a veritable feast if you're a penniless homeless person. Last week we had rice, chicken, cokes, bananas, etc. The problem for us is we have to walk for two hours there and back, and carrying all our belongings, including our sleeping bags. Also, I don't think Declan can walk for long in his condition. So I think we will have to skip it tonight.

Yesterday morning I tried getting some clothes from the Dellow Centre. It turns out that the nun we often see carrying around a clipboard is the person in charge of clothes. After asking me what it is I need, she came back some minutes later with clothes in a plastic bag. Inside there was a pink tee-shirt, a white jumper and a pair of old blue jeans that were too big for me. My black jeans are no good anymore, so I have no choice but to wear the blue jeans. I have no intention of asking the nun for another jumper. I should have known what I was going to get.

The Dellow Centre is run by the Sisters of Mercy, an Irish order. They were heavily involved in the running of Magdalene Laundries all over Ireland, and in countries such as Australia, France, and even the US. According to the Guardian, they now have their eyes on Africa and Asia. If you are interested, we have a campaign to end Magdalene Laundries for good, and a 'take action' to the Congregational Leader of the Sisters of Mercy (oops!). You can read it here.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Wishful thinking

Last night it rained as were making our way to our patch. We had to find cover and wait for over 45 minutes until it stopped. No good getting into our sleeping bags with wet coats. The police would be delighted, though. We're going to have to repeat this every time it rains on our way back to the patch. I'm really not looking forward to the next shower of rain.

Of course, this predicament of ours would be resolved if St Mungo's Contact and Assessment Team (CAT) would refer us to a night shelter. But I guess it's too tempting for the police to leave us at the mercy of the elements. With some luck Declan could get pneumonia!

Many of the homeless here in the Whitechapel Mission have serious health problems. They cough constantly. I am amazed some of them are not in hospital. You can see it hurts. It's not possible to function properly if you're that sick. And it's so easy to mess with you. We are under no illusion that that is exactly how the police want us, especially Declan. And St Mungo's, the largest organisation in London working with the homeless, are on police instruction. We have no doubt about it.

The Whitechapel Mission, always so full, is now half empty. Homeless are being taken off the streets now that the bad weather has arrived. Most of those I see around now are the hard-core cases, with serious addictions, aggressive behaviour, and the like. And, of course, there's Declan and me!

Our raison d'etre is our Network of those Abused by Church. We're hardly a national security concern. It makes me wonder what other people the police are going after.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Sleeping in the park

12.00pm. We have just left the Dellow Centre. We had showers and did our laundry. I almost felt like a normal human being.

I am sitting on a park bench. No sun! My shoes are off because my feet are getting sore with all the walking we are doing. Declan is lying on another bench across the way. He is using his sleeping bag as a pillow. I know that everybody who passes him knows he is homeless. No person with a home lies down on a park bench to sleep. People give him a quick glance as they pass him.

I pretend that he is somebody else. I look at him again. All I see is his isolation and bottomless loneliness. I hope that some day when we get out of this situation (not of our making), I will not pass a homeless person without a feeling of solidarity. But what can you do? A pound here and there doesn't rescue a homeless person from their isolation and loneliness.

Perhaps the best thing to do is give a bit of money to an organisation. For me, though, religious organisations don't cut it. If I could find a secular organisation that runs a day centre, for example, I would definitely support an organisation like that. However, I'm not sure that such an organisation even exists. I would want to help break the isolation and loneliness of a homeless person.

Making everything as difficult as possible...

It's 6.35am, five minutes after yesterday's St Mungo's Contact and Assessment Team (CAT) said they would be back to our patch to verify that we are rough sleepers. Declan has gone to a public phone down the street to leave a message for the CAT worker who left us her card. He is now waiting outside the phone box for a possible call, whilst I am waiting for them in our patch. Our rucksacks are packed and the cardboard we were sleeping on last night has been removed to the skip.

It's not that we don't know what's going on. It's all about making everything as difficult as possible for us. Take, for example, the CAT. We waited four nights for them to visit us. They turned up yesterday at 6.30am, but not to refer us to a night shelter. They only wanted to check that we are rough sleepers. They said that they needed to further verify that this morning. That's five nights for us sleeping rough on the streets. And you can bet we will not be referred to a night shelter tonight ... They are here now.


8.00am. We have just made it to the Whitechapel Mission. Declan is queuing at the moment to get our breakfast. The St Mungo's CAT has told us we are now verified as rough sleepers. No night shelter for us tonight, though. We can only assume that when these CAT workers do their rounds at night (visiting rough sleepers and phoning night shelters to take them off the street), they will visit us too. We are already on the look out for places to sleep for when the serious rain and the snow arrives, which may be sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

St Mungo's

I woke at 3.50am and saw that Declan was fast asleep. Still, I called to him and asked if he wanted to get up. I find it quite easy to write my blog between 4.30am and 6.00am. As I am walking to the Whitechapel Mission, the darkness and silence helps me to put my thoughts together with some structure. By the time I'm sitting down in the Mission, I'm already writing freely.

Anyway, Declan was warm in his new sleeping bag and wanted to go back to sleep. My back was aching because I had slept in the same position all night; with clothes, big coat and runners on inside my sleeping sleeping bag, it was too cumbersome to move.

What happened next was quite surreal – even for us. At 6.30am (we were still asleep), the alarm in our patch went off. We woke up and reckoned that this must have been planned by the police to give them a reasonable excuse to approach us. We agreed that the best strategy was to leave the patch (together with our cardboard) as fast as possible. Declan must have been working faster than me because when I turned around, he was talking with two young people ... our Contact and Assessment Team (CAT)!

I let Declan do all the talking (how much talking does a rough sleeper need to do?) and started folding our sleeping bags and tidying up. The talking went on for over 20 minutes – and also the alarm (no, I am not lying). By the time they left, daylight had broken and activity had started up on the street.

It turns out that contrary to what the internet says a CAT does, the visit was not to provide us with a referral to a night shelter. It was simply to establish that we are in fact rough sleepers, which requires further verification by the same CAT at 6.30am tomorrow morning.

Before they left, they took a digital photo of us in our patch. They said they were going to send us a copy via email. (If they send it, I will post it in this blog!) Before they left, Declan got the girl's card. I still don't know how he managed it, with the ongoing excruciating noise and flashing blue light in the porch. They come from St Mungo's, which is another Catholic charity and London's largest homelessness organisation. They house more than 1,200 people each night, and run over 60 hostels and care homes. They also provide supported housing.

Tomorrow I will report on our second encounter with this CAT. Hopefully, their verification will not take long and we can may be promoted to sleeping on something like two chairs, out of the elements.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Professional rough sleepers!

1.00pm. We are in a park – wonderful weather. Hauling all you own around doesn't feel that difficult when the sun is shining. Also, sitting on a park bench gives us a much needed break. We don't look homeless, at least not yet; more like well-seasoned tourists.

The Whitechapel Mission has toilets and showers, so we do our best to keep as clean and presentable as possible. The bigger problem is clothes.

Places like the Salvation Army do give out some clothes but they are too far away. I still have to find out if there are other day centres within acceptable walking distance for us. The Dellow Centre has a DIY laundry service, but at 11.30am everyone must leave, regardless of what you're doing. So I keep putting off doing a laundry - unthinkable really if I wasn't homeless.

Declan got his military sleeping bag from the Whitechapel Mission. The Dellow Centre operates a registration list for clothing items. Now that we both have military sleeping bags, we are professional rough sleepers!

Declan has informed the Dellow that a Contact and Assessment Team (CAT) never made contact with us over the weekend. They have referred us again for contact and assessment tonight.

The singing bird

This morning I was woken by Declan at 3.50am. I was actually deep in sleep when I felt his hand and heard his voice. For a split second I didn't know he was calling me to get up. That is of course very good news – I am getting some quality rest. Still no Contact and Assessment Team (CAT).

Later this morning we are going to the Dellow Centre to ask for a sleeping bag for Declan. There shouldn't be a problem – it was the Dellow that gave me the military sleeping bag I've got. The Catholic Sisters of Mercy-run Dellow is a modern and spacious place, with big and formidable front gates. You don't get to just walk in, there's an intercom check first. From 9.15am to 11.30am registered rough sleepers can get some free food, watch a bit of TV if they want, or just hang about in the courtyard sipping coffee or tea. The centre closes at 11.30am and opens again for a couple of hours in the afternoon. Over the weekend, it's closed. We don't know yet where the local homeless get their lunch or dinner from Monday to Friday that does not involve a walk for us of hours.

While I was putting stuff into our rucksacks back at the porch, Declan was moving the cardboard to a nearby skip. Having finished my own task, I walked the remaining cardboard to the corner for him. Suddenly a bird broke the silence with a short song. I was quite amazed. All there was in front of me were two young trees in the middle of a small square in a built up business area. Nobody could say this bird wouldn't have had an easier time in one of the city parks. It actually gave me hope. No bird under the weather there! And his situation wasn't that much different from our own. He has to find food, maybe some water, and has to be warm at night – and in adversity.

Declan and I were making our way to the Whitechapel Mission when we took an underground walkway to cross the main road. There, off the walkway below ground, was a patch that some homeless guys had made for themselves. Declan doubled back to check it out and then told me to see it for myself. It was definitely a smart patch, with their beds protected by a wall of well-placed cardboard. And then I saw a small teddy bear on their make-shift table beside a couple of apples!

I immediately saw connection between this small group of homeless guys and the bird. All were in a bad place but getting something out of it. These guys were not stupid and you don't get to keep a teddy bear like that unless there's hope. And the same with the bird – he doesn't sing at 4.00am if he doesn't have hope. But that hope is only possible in these sort of circumstances with resilience. Then I knew I had it: the magic word for us on the street is resilience. We must make the best of our situation, learn to be resilient; think resilience, all the time, in every circumstance. We will then have hope.

Not only are we not going to be broken, but if it is decided that no CAT will ever come to visit us, let them. They are not going to break us.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


Cold again. Declan doesn't have a military sleeping bag like mine and woke up at 3.30am, freezing and unable to get back to sleep. I, on the other hand, was (relatively) comfortable and warm. I could have slept until 5.00am. To sleep, I now get into the sleeping bag wearing double socks, cheap thermal long johns, all my clothes, coat, cap and gloves. I find it quite reassuring that we are quickly adapting to the elements. Declan must get a military sleeping bag, though. Also, we must decide what to do when the weather gets colder or it starts raining. Declan must avoid pneumonia at all costs. I should mention that no Contact and Assessment Team (CAT) came by. Also no police car!

As we made our way to the Whitechapel Mission yesterday, I found myself measuring places against each other as to which one would be the warmer inside. My favourite is the London Muslim Centre ... so big, new, empty and bright in the early hours of the morning.

I am now sitting in my sleeping bag on cardboard Declan got nearby, writing this blog and waiting to make our way to the Mission, which opens at 6.00am. Declan is fast asleep in my sleeping bag. There are some rough sleepers (Poles) bedded down around the corner. There seems to be quite a number of Eastern Europeans living on the streets. This government is very keen to have cheap labour from Eastern Europe but these people have few rights (if any) and often find themselves laid off by their employers.

Finding free food during the weekend hasn't turned out to be a walk in the park. Few day centres are open, and those that are open are too far away. Yesterday we walked all the way to London Bridge to get some free lunch before 1.30pm; which turned out to be some mash potatoes, mash meat and beans. There and back we must have walked three hours with our rucksacks and sleeping bags. It was hardly worth it. We were not in the mood to walk later in the afternoon an even longer distance to get some sandwiches for the night. Instead, we went to the library. We bought a roll, a tin of sardines and two bananas in Sainsbury's for a night meal, which we ate nearby.

Having uploaded our blog post in an internet café, we were back at our patch by 11.00pm with nothing to do except protect ourselves against the wind and cold. Being rough sleepers makes everything a lot harder because we are constantly walking from one place to another with everything we own, being challenged by the elements. We're not at all surprised rough sleepers are generally so worn out and sick. I have to stop myself thinking about it when I pass an empty public building. Anything is better than the open cold and concrete.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Homeless on the streets of London

Friday, Nov 3 | It is 6.00pm, the first hour we have had to sit down with coffees since arriving in London this morning. We are in a centre for the homeless called Crisis. Having been unable to secure a night shelter for tonight, in four hours Declan and I will be sleeping on the street. Just now I went into the toilet and dumped three-quarters of my rucksack. I can now say that I have truly nothing except the clothes I am wearing, a couple of pairs of stocks, underwear, toothbrush and a military sleeping bag given to me earlier this afternoon. No other way to survive the streets.

In a nutshell, there are day centres which are open at different times around London. I guess some homeless people do the rounds to get out of the cold and the rain. Just one day on the streets and Declan and I know where to go to get free breakfast, good water and even a cup of coffee in the afternoon. We also have the primary libraries in the City of London identified.

We are determined to beat this new way to live that we have been forced into. Lots of lateral thinking is going to be necessary, which I am happy to report Declan and I are very good at. There is really nobody in the world I would choose to go to the street with other than Declan. He is full of resources, well-travelled and very good on the phone! No wonder we are being closely policed; not difficult though, when you consider there are not many possibilities when someone has little money, no place to sleep and few places to get into. I should mention here that yesterday, before leaving Birmingham, Declan received a letter from the court manager in the High Court of Justice Administrative Court here in London, informing him that at a hearing on 11 December Mr Justice Collins will reconsider his decision of 13 October to deny us permission to apply for judicial review against the Department for Work and Pensions. We've got to survive being homeless until then. Didn't Declan request on 24 August an urgent judicial review? Somehow I don't think that we're supposed to survive that long. The British government (any government really) has so many resources at its disposal to take out any inconvenience that it's hard to believe individuals without money or power broke through in the pre-internet era.

We have been told by two advisers in two different day centres that because Declan's joint claim for unemployment benefit has been terminated (because he did not sign on two days before he was supposed to), we are not entitled to Housing Benefit; and most night shelters are not interested in people without it. Choices are slim after that. Rolling night shelters (different church halls that rotate on a weekly basis) are run between the end of November and March and are mostly full of people who are not accepted by night shelters because of addictions and the like. Most night shelters that do not require Housing Benefit are government owned and only accept people sleeping rough that have been referred to them by a Contact and Assessment Team (CAT). A CAT from one of the homeless charities visits people sleeping rough when they are bedded down with a view to referring them to a night shelter, if possible.

Having arrived in London by bus this morning at 5.30am, we were first referred by the Methodist-run Whitechapel Mission to the Catholic Sisters of Mercy-run Dellow Centre. The Dellow Centre told us we should probably make our way to Victoria Station, where it might be safer for us to sleep. We arrived there almost out of breath and went straight into The Passage day centre, which is run by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul and Westminster Cathedral. An advisor there told us we had no connections in London and therefore could not access their services. We were advised to jump on a bus immediately - coincidently from Victoria Station - and return to Birmingham. When we mentioned our right of free movement within the EU, the advisor got very defensive and told us that no CAT visits rough sleepers around Victoria Station on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

So we are supposed to return Birmingham! Getting the picture, we made our way back to the Dellow Centre. This time we arrived at the Centre with the address of a patch nearby that we had chosen for the night. They took the details for a Thames Reach rescue team to visit us between 11.00pm and 4.00am.


Saturday, Nov 4 | It is now about 1.00am. Declan is sleeping beside me in our patch while I am here writing on our first night as homeless people. I couldn't really sleep without mentioning the experience of walking to Trafalgar Square earlier tonight and queuing with over 150 homeless people in the cold to be given some hot food from a van. Declan got information on food that will be handy for the weekend. By 10.00pm we were back at our patch. It is quite cold now, although the army sleeping bags we were given yesterday are providing some protection. I'm sure no CAT will visit us.


It's 7.00am. We're back at the Whitechapel Mission. Just to confirm that no CAT visited us last night. At 5.00am we woke so cold that we decided to make our way to the Mission, the only homeless centre in London that opens at 6.00am for free coffee and biscuits. It was pitch dark when we started out. Next week the weather is expected to take a turn for the worse. Tonight we will get some cardboard to sleep on from a place nearby our patch. Not only are we to be homeless, but we must sleep rough as well. Perhaps tonight the police will tell us to move on. The unaccountability is bottomless.