Monday, January 29, 2007

We are back sleeping rough

Last night at 8.30pm Declan and I left our new Sunday WLCHC (West London Churches Homeless Concern) rolling shelter at Riverside Community Church in Hammersmith, never to return. We are now back to where we were before we started up with the WLCHC rolling winter shelter programme in mid-December, sleeping in the porch in Whitechapel we went into on our first night of homelessness on 3 November.

In a nutshell, the reason why Declan decided we had to pull out was because the threats and intimidation escalated to new heights last night and Declan didn’t believe he was safe spending any more time in a WLCHC venue.

I actually had a bad feeling from the start. In the queue outside the church, the women were invited as usual to go in first by the homeless while on this occasion blocking me out. The coordinator on duty also allowed one of the two Spaniards to enter drunk – in breach of their own rules.

So while Declan is sitting at the dinner table waiting for everyone to get seated, who ends up sitting in the chair next to him but the drunk Spaniard, after the white South African stood up to give him his chair.

Declan had actually to tell the Spaniard to take his hands off him and even a volunteer had to ask him to cool down. To no avail though … the next thing he does is to put his fist to Declan’s face. When Declan asked the volunteer if he saw it, the volunteer tells Declan from a few feet away that he saw the fist close to his face but not actual contact.

It was then Declan decided we had to get out from under the WLCHC – things had evidently got out of control in relation to him. So he came down to the women’s room and told me to pack up everything, and leave.

Before we left Hammersmith we went back to the local police station to keep PC Stephanie Tann (737FH) – who says she will be phoning Declan before the end of the week in relation to the assault on him on 25 January at 3.30am – updated. She wasn’t there, so Declan left a message for her and a photocopy of two police tickets we were issued on 11 November with the address of our porch and the identification of us as rough sleepers. (For the five weeks that we slept in the porch before this rolling winter shelter programme, we were visited on four occassions by the Metropolitan Police.)

Friday, January 26, 2007

Declan presses charges for physical assault

Last night in the WLCHC (West London Churches Homeless Concern) rolling shelter at St Barnabas Church in Kensington we were told by the coordinator on duty that he was satisfied the assault on Declan the night before last was an accident.

This morning – we are woken at 6.00am – Declan and I left the shelter straight away and headed for Hammersmith Police Station to press charges. Declan was given his crime reference number (6002035-07) and told by PC Stephanie Tann (737FH) that the incident had yet to be investigated by her, but that she would telephone Declan before the end of next week.

So the police have now to interview this homeless guy, and I am hoping that all of that takes place in one of the rolling shelters we sleep in at night. Perhaps that would give pause for thought to any homeless emboldened by “the accident”.

This afternoon, Declan emailed the vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton, Nicky Gumbel. Holy Trinity Brompton is an Anglican church in Knightsbridge, of whose Social Transformation programme WLCHC is a part. This is the email:

Subject: Physical Assault

Dear Vicar Gumbel

I refer to my telephone conversation this morning with your PA, Ms Roslyn Dehaan, and wish to reconfirm that I have pressed charges for physical assault on 25 January (3.30am) at the WLCHC rolling shelter at Riverside Community Church in Hammersmith.

Yours sincerely
Declan Heavey

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Declan assaulted in WLCHC shelter

Last night Declan left the Wednesday WLCHC (West London Churches Homeless Concern) rolling shelter at Riverside Community Church in Hammersmith at 4.30am, and walked into Hammersmith Police Station to report a physical assault on him by one of the homeless guys he sleeps with. It may not be long now before we find ourselves back in the porch we have been sleeping in since 3 November, despite the winter weather.

I was actually totally unaware of the drama that had taken place because I was in another room and Declan didn’t want the night staff to wake me up. So when lights went on at 6.00am – I had been awake since 5.30am because I could hear the volunteers in the kitchen talking and making noise – I was told Declan had been assaulted during the night and was waiting for me out on the street.

Last week at the Friday WLCHC shelter at the Hall of Remembrance in Chelsea a homeless guy was seriously assaulted by another homeless guy in the queue prior to entry and the police had to be called to the scene. So, I really didn’t know what to expect.

As it turns out, at 3.30am one of the homeless – a black guy in his fifties, whose Lithuanian partner sleeps with me – crossed the hall to where Declan was sleeping and came down with considerable force on Declan’s crotch with a flat hand.

As Declan was telling me while we were waiting outside the gates of the Dellow Centre to do a laundry, he is well accustomed to physical conflict and injury as result of all the sport he has played, but somebody less physical could well have suffered an injury from the force of the assault. Actually that was one of the questions he was asked by the policewoman that took his statement.

What makes this assault all the more shocking is that just before dinner we had been speaking to one of two WLCHC coordinators for over 10 minutes about all the bullying we have been experiencing over the past two weeks, especially Declan, both inside and in the queue to the WLCHC shelters we have been sleeping in. This coordinator told us he would be putting a stop to it and that in future we should bring to his attention any intimidation and/or bullying that occurs.

Anyway, the incident has been reported to the police, as well as all the bullying prior to it, and although Declan didn’t receive a copy of his statement, the policewoman (PC 737FH) said the matter would be investigated by her and that Declan would be phoned with a crime reference number.

The WLCHC night duty staff told Declan that on their part they would be reporting the assault to the director of WLCHC, Michael Athienites. The coordinator we had been talking to actually asked us if we would like to talk with Athienites, as he was at the shelter. Declan didn’t think it was necessary. If only he had known!

Yesterday afternoon Declan and I delivered an envelope to a journalist containing some pages from our NAC website and documents in the case Heavey v Birmingham Erdington Jobcentre Plus and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions: his sealed appellant’s notice of 17 January together with grounds of appeal; order of Mr Justice Walker of 11 December together with transcript of judgment (see blog of 11 December “Judge Walker refuses us permission to apply for judicial review”); and grounds of resistance by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions of 14 September. I keep thinking that this is London, and that surely we can find a competent journalist that can cut an angle for publication. It is not as if NAC is not potentially a very important organisation, not only nationally, but internationally. You only have to have a look at the calibre of the NAC trustees and honorary associates to see it.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Email from the director of the WLCHC

This morning Declan eventually got the Civil Appeals Office in the Royal Courts of Justice to provide him with a stamped receipt for his Certificate of Service which confirms that yesterday he served on the Solicitor for the Dept for Work and Pensions/Dept of Health a sealed amended appellant’s notice (following his eventual receipt of the transcript of Judge Walker’s judgment of 11 December).

The last time he had to serve the Solicitor for the DWP/DH – having been given 3 days upon his receipt of the judge's order to file an appellant’s notice, or have his case dismissed – we decided to serve in person. On that occasion, Declan was told at the reception of the Office of the Solicitor (for the DWP/DH) that no form of receipt for post received could be provided, so we decided not to take any chances this time, just in case.

Last night Declan had another eventful night in the Monday rolling shelter at Chelsea Methodist Church, 155a Kings Road, which happens to be the address of the West London Churches Homeless Concern (WLCHC), and also of their day centre. 3 homeless guys decided to have a cut at him – 2 drunks, one of them a Pole, and a Romanian. (Yes, WLCHC runs a very multicultural rolling shelter programme, the majority of its “guests” having consumed alcohol prior to entry at 8.00pm.)

The drunk Pole put his mat in such a way that had Declan not moved away from him, his legs could have become the Pole’s pillow. The other drunk hurled abuse at Declan while he was reading his book by his sleeping bag, and it didn’t bother the guy in the slightest that he did so in front of staff and volunteers. And during the night the Romanian (we call him “Opinions”) moved a chair up against Declan’s feet, just as the homeless woman did with me two nights ago.

Anyway, yesterday afternoon Declan received a reply to his email to the director of the WLCHC. As far as Athienites is aware, there is no one currently in his shelter programme suffering from scabies, which neither Declan nor I find the slightest bit re-assuring in light of the amount of scratching that is still going on. I am sure the churches that are offering their premises to be used as rolling shelters by his organisation will be very relieved though, especially those which during the day revert back to children’s classrooms.

This is the email Athienites sent Declan:

Dear Mr. Heavey,

I am sorry if you have been made to feel anxious at the shelter regarding scabies. As far as I am aware, there is no-one currently in the shelter who has this condition. If you feel unhappy about anyone or any situation in the shelter, the best way forward is to speak to the project manager on duty that night (Danny or Katy) about your concerns, rather than get into any discussion with another guest.

As we are halfway through the shelter season, we will be replacing all the mats in the near future and also aim to provide new blankets. These will be given out as before.

I have also called you today - as requested - and left messages. I hope we can have a chat soon. I plan to be at the shelter on Wednesday this week and hope we can meet then, if needed.

Yours sincerely,

Mike Athienites
Senior Project Manager

Monday, January 22, 2007

Scabies and the WLCHC

The director of the West London Churches Homeless Concern (WLCHC) Michael Athienites has put a message on Declan’s mobile today to the effect that although he is in and out of his office today he is hoping that Declan and he can talk.

Well, that is nice. Declan is going to be able to further inform him that the same scabies sufferer that scratched his back over Declan on Thursday unceremoniously bedded down next to Declan on Saturday night, with 30 seconds to lights out. He is also going to ask Athienites which of the two instructions the WLCHC homeless were given about two weeks ago should we follow in the event we catch the highly communicable mite: burn all our clothes or boil them.

Understandably, we were not overjoyed when we were given either of these two instructions. Declan (while still recovering from his pneumonia) and I spent most of the holiday period in December and early January selling The Big Issue in Covent Garden so that we could buy the clothes that the Dellow Centre and the Whitechapel Mission haven’t provided us with – but provide the rest of the homeless that attend their respective establishments.

Last night in the Sunday rolling centre at Barnes Methodist Church, Station Road, two of the homeless women I sleep with let me have a piece of their mind, although not in actual words. In the middle of the night, I woke up to find that one had moved her chair - and herself - so close to me that I couldn’t stretch my legs without bumping into the chair. The other woman had done a 40 degree right-turn and had her feet right up against my stomach. It just so happened that I had taken precautions before I went to sleep and had left some space between myself and the wall I was sleeping alongside, which I was able to use to move away from the two of them.

Because our savings have been somewhat depleted as result of Declan’s dealings with the Civil Appeals Office in the Royal Courts of Justice (more about that in the next blog), we have been selling The Big Issue at our two pitches outside Liverpool Street station between 7.30am and 9.00am, in addition to the other hours we usually sell it at. We don’t sell much so early, but £8-10 when you are homeless means a lot.

This morning after 9.00am Declan went to the Whitechapel Mission to wash while I went to the Dellow Centre to do a small laundry and have a shower. Things are even worse there than before. I waited for 20 minutes in the queue in the freezing cold and rain, when there was only 11 homeless in front me when I first arrived. I wasn’t able to do a laundry – maybe tomorrow, I was told – and the TV has been covered with a blanket and turned around so that it now faces the wall. I heard a volunteer say to one of the homeless, who was inquiring as to why he couldn’t watch TV anymore, that the management doesn’t want the TV on … management being, of course, the Sisters of Mercy.

It is an indictment, I think, of how little Tower Hamlets Council is doing to improve the conditions for homeless people that we have to queue for so long, in the heart of winter, for the little and erratic services we get from the Dellow Centre.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Email to the director of the West London Churches Homeless Concern

Last night Declan emailed West London Churches Homeless Concern (WLCHC) Director Michael Athienites. WLCHC is a Christian organisation that offers winter rolling shelters on the floors of churches to 35 homeless men and women. Every year it runs from mid-November to the first week of April. After that, Declan and I will revert back to sleeping rough in our patch in Whitechapel. I have to say that I often find myself wishing I was there despite the cold and police harassment.

We have been on this winter night shelter programme since mid-December. We arrive at each rolling venue before 8.00pm, have the meal provided eaten by 9.00pm, bed down shortly thereafter, and are woken at 6.00am - sometimes at 5.30am in my case. The email below that Declan sent to the WLCHC last night followed some unpleasant run-ins he has had with two homeless guys in particular – a white South African and a Spanish guy. There's even a drunken Pole who seems to think he can score brownie points if he can kick Declan awake in the middle of the night. Declan has become well accustomed to moving before he beds down for the night, to get away from this guy in particular.

The women sleep separate from the men, usually in a small room. There are only six of us. Sometimes there are seven, when the coordinator allows in a hardcore middle-aged alcoholic woman who frequently can hardly stand up. The other night this particular woman assaulted one of the homeless guys while we were outside waiting for another shelter to open at 8.00pm. At the beginning we women were all in bed by 9.20pm, lights were out and there was almost no talk. Now that has all changed. I am the only one that gets inside my sleeping bag at 9.00pm, while the rest chat, play music, etc. I really don't know what any of them have to celebrate! Of late, one woman follows me into whatever room we have for the night, carrying her dinner with her. They also wake up in the middle of the night, and what else goes on I don't know because I wear earplugs.

Subject: Scabies

Dear Mr. Athienites,

Last night in your shelter at St Philip's Church, Stratford Road I had a run-in with one of the sufferers of scabies that I bed down with at night. Having sat on my coat, he proceeded to scratch his back inches from me. Given the highly communicable nature of this itch mite, I would be grateful if you would please advise as to how I should best handle such an incident should it recur. (Since the outbreak two weeks ago, my wife and I use neither the mats nor blankets provided by West London Churches Homeless Concern.)

Yours sincerely,
Declan Heavey

We are fed up sleeping with homeless people, and fed up with being homeless in general, which is why we are now looking for a London-based journalist.