Saturday, February 23, 2008

Police threaten to evict us from the porch

Last night we received our fifteenth visit to the porch by the City of London Police. One moment I am sleeping in my sleeping bag and the next I am listening almost in disbelief to this big stocky policeman telling us that he and his partner have an order to evict us from the porch.

"We have been sleeping here since 3 November 2006 and we are gone before 5.30am every morning," I point out, adding that since the beginning of the year a cleaner has been going in and out of the building through the porch door every weekday night between 10.00pm and 11.00pm and another cleaner has been doing the same between 5.00am and 5.30am (we get up at 4.40am) and our behaviour has never been deemed disruptive or disorderly. I also mention that for over a year now workers have been accessing the building through the porch door at all hours of the night without any difficulty whatsoever – Declan even tears the cardboard so there is no chance the door is ever blocked.

"Some rough sleepers get drunk and leave their porches dirty, upsetting and angering the owners," says the other police officer. "Ah," I reply, "but we don't drink or smoke and in fact almost every night I spend some time cleaning the porch floor." Declan also mentioned our protection under the Human Rights Act 1998 – we became aware of our rights as rough sleepers under the Act after police told us on 28 May that rough sleepers were to be woken every hour to force them off the streets (see here).

Anyway, if the City of London Police insist on evicting us from the porch, Declan intends complaining to London Mayor Ken Livingstone under the Human Rights Act: we have been sleeping in this porch for almost 16 months without one single complaint; we are in this dreadful situation through no fault of our own; and eviction will put us at even greater risk (which can only be the intention - I have been dragged out of the porch by the ankles and on another occasion I was repeatedly kicked in the shoulders and chest, despite the porch being in a business area heavily covered by CCTV).

Eviction was not the only hurdle we were asked to jump in the past few days – a week ago it was the near collapse of Declan's petition to the UN in support of therapeutic cloning (see previous blog), which is still taking a battering. On Thursday I was stopped from selling The Big Issue (a magazine sold by homeless people on registered street pitches) after my pitch was unceremoniously taken over by a street distributor of the WTF Magazine – as I reported in my blog of 20 January "Begging for over a week", I have been begging in the local train station since 10 January – so my fling as a Big Issue vendor since Monday lasted, well, two days.

Needless to say, this weekend we have almost no money to buy food - I will be begging in the train station again on Monday morning, having been threatened with arrest on 18 January. Of course, like every other homeless, we could get some coffee and a basic breakfast for 60p in the Methodist Church-run Whitechapel Mission except that the minister’s wife barred us back in June due to concerns about our safety. It hasn’t helped that all last week food has been particularly scarce in the Sisters of Mercy-run Dellow Centre, even on Friday, when Medecins du Monde UK made an appearance. Things are not looking good for next week either, as they will be closed on Wednesday. On Monday, a homeless woman cleaned herself in the women’s washroom with a broken piece of soap, and did her teeth with her finger and some water. A look at their annual report of 2006/07 doesn’t provide any clues, but contains three pages of supporters: charities, societies, churches, companies, livery companies, religious organisations, trusts, statutory funders (London Borough of Tower Hamlets, London Councils and The Corporation of London) and the Duke of Norfolk (to whom Declan reported the withdrawal of his use of a landline phone) as Patron.

We have yet to hear from the European Court of Human Rights – Declan received a letter from the Registrar turning down his request of 8 September for priority under Rule 41 of the Rules of the Court, but informing him that the Court would examine his application, also of 8 September, possibly before the end of January. We have arrived to the conclusion that since we didn’t convince the Court of the merits of our case for priority, the chances are we didn’t put a good enough case together for the British government to be invited to set out its observations on the merits and admissibility of the case. I am sure it is also relevant that, according to Philip Leach in Taking a Case to the European Court of Human Rights, in 2003 96% of cases were declared inadmissible, or struck out, by the Court.

For the record, this is Declan’s second email on Thursday to The Big Issue outreach manager:

Subject: WTF Magazine

Dear Mr Joseph

Thank you for your email regarding the problems I am having with Ebuyer (UK) Limited's WTF Magazine.

You recommend that in correspondence to companies I should be "more specific as to what the problem is rather than simply referring to the 'takeover' of the pitch". Should Ebuyer (UK) request more detail from me, I will inform the company that at 7.35am this morning, five minutes after my wife stood into her Big Issue pitch at The George Pub, Liverpool Street, a street distributor of the WTF Magazine planted his trolley full of magazines within no more than a metre from her and proceeded to distribute the magazine between her and the trolley, completely oblivious to the fact that she was standing only a few inches behind him and less than a foot to his right – a railing at her right side. My wife left the pitch at 8.30am, having sold no magazines.

With reference to the quote from the letter of 10 September 2007 I received from John Bird, Founder and Editor-In-Chief of The Big Issue, you state: "I should point out that the quote from John Bird (who is not Dr.) relates to you not needing to contact him directly about Big Issue problems and to instead contact Distribution staff such as myself, and is therefore not relevant in communications you have with other companies." However, the quote to which you refer also indicates that he is not unwilling to get involved in these matters:

I have employed many people over the years to do jobs related to the running of The Big Issue. I have never employed them to do my job; likewise I do not do their job. Please bear this in mind when you are composing your letters. You do not need to address your letters to me, as it is not my job. I would only get involved if you were utterly and totally let down by those whose job it is in The Big Issue. I hope this assists in your deliberations in pursuit of your claims.

Yours sincerely
Declan Heavey
Big Issue badge no. 1163

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Declan’s petition to the UN is being brought to a halt

In my blog of 26 January “Declan’s Google Mail is raided” (after all emails received by Declan after 12 August were unceremoniously dumped in the "trash", and the names and emails of 2,500 scientists contained in 250 draft documents were wiped for good), I expressed my concern that Declan’s petition to the UN in support of therapeutic cloning, which so far has been signed by 362 scientists, including 21 Nobel laureates, could be “seriously” targeted next. Alas, it has. Of the 150 scientists I emailed on 8 February not one signed the petition – one scientist signed that day but he was emailed on 6 February – and I got two Out of Office AutoReplys with “[SUSPECT SPAM]” in the subject.

I also reported anomalies in my blog of 6 January “European Court of Human Rights declines to expedite Declan’s case” when I wrote that Declan had been informed by some signatories that they hadn’t received emails from him and that the week previous I had found two emails from scientists, asking Declan to add their name to the petition, in the spam box. On 6 February Declan was again informed by a signatory that an email had not been received, despite Google Mail's record of it having been sent.

It has been our belief from the outset of the petition that the only way to combat these sorts of anomalies is to send large quantities of emails in the hope that at least some will get through, which clearly has been the case. However, at this particular moment, I dare say the petition is on the brink of total collapse: I am sending the same large quantities of emails – although on 29 January the Tower Hamlets Council-run Idea Store Whitechapel imposed a 3-hour limit on free computer use in respect of both our membership cards (which I also predicted would happen in my blog of 20 January “Begging for over a week”) – and yet on Tuesday no scientist signed, while only one signed on Thursday and one yesterday. Whether the emails from Declan’s database are being sent to spam boxes or getting lost in cyberspace is anyone’s guess. Why is the petition being brought to a halt? Well, perhaps it is because last week I began researching A-list supporters of therapeutic cloning and early this week we began emailing them to ask if they would consider making a small contribution of $10 or $20 to help us continue doing this important work.

Nights in the porch, which is situated in a business area, are never boring: last Saturday, while I was asleep in my sleeping bag, a guy grabbed me by the shoulders and roared “Hello” (I thought rough sleepers had the reputation of being at the very least unpredictable in their behaviour); in the middle of two nights this week we were roared at to “wake up”; late on Tuesday night two guys stopped by the porch and began throwing obscenities at each other; and how can I forget that I had to clean the porch twice this week of urine (as I reported at the time, on 15 December somebody actually defecated and urinated in it).

All this week we have been harassed by homeless. For example, on Tuesday a homeless walked with us half the length of a street calling us, among other things, “f**king rats” and c**ts, and Friday morning, while Declan was having his cereal breakfast in the Sisters of Mercy-run Dellow Centre, this same homeless sat behind him, making out that we were both lucky to be still alive (I would need a whole blog to give a description of what is going on in this place - despite that now Declan and I leave as fast as possible - starting with the queue outside the front gate and finishing with the ‘breakfast’). Oh, and the Friday before last Declan was told by an attendant in the public toilets of the local train station (the same station where I have been doing my begging early in the morning since 10 January, see previous blog - the latest in this saga: a police officer now stands where I get some of my money and some people I ask for spare change seem too personal in their unkindness) that he could no longer use the facility to wash, despite Declan having paid the 20p admittance fee – Declan continues to wash there, although the attendants have been paying him particular attention every morning (we have been forced to wash in the train station ever since back in June the Methodist Church-run Whitechapel Mission barred us from its premises due to concerns about our safety).

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Squeezed to the last drop

In my previous blog last Saturday, I reported that Declan's Google Mail had just been raided: all emails sent to him after 12 August were unceremoniously dumped in the "trash" (which is why I was able to find them through the search facility), and the names and emails of 2,500 scientists were deleted for good. Our reaction might not have been the desired one because that night somebody threw a large bag of rubbish over us as we slept in the porch.

I also reported on 20 January (see "Begging for over a week") that from 10 January I had been forced to go into the local train station early in the morning and ask people for some spare change so that Declan and I could get by for the day – a situation that arose from all the problems we were having with street distributors while attempting to sell The Big Issue (a magazine sold by homeless people on registered street pitches) and bad weather (weather statistics have revealed that last month was the wettest since 1995, with only seven wetter Januarys in the past 100 years).

All of this took place less than two weeks before the European Court of Human Rights was tentatively scheduled to examine Declan's application of 8 September – Declan received a letter from the Registrar turning down his request for priority under Rule 41 of the Rules of the Court, but stating that his application would "possibly" be examined before the end of January.

We don't know if the European Court has indeed examined the application and decided it is inadmissible or is going to invite the observations of the British government on the merits and admissibility of the case. In particular, the Government’s observations would be invited in answer to two questions:

      1. Did the two suspensions of the applicant’s joint claim for Jobseeker's Allowance on 18 August and 19 September 2006 and the subsequent ceasing of entitlement on 27 September 2006 (in the middle of High Court proceedings for permission to apply for an urgent judicial review, because he did not “sign on” two days before he was due to do so on 29 September) constitute a violation of the applicant's right to respect for his private life and family life within the meaning of Article 8 of the Convention?
      2. Did the applicant have an affective domestic remedy within the meaning of Article 13 of the Convention in respect of the alleged violation of Article 8 of the Convention? (There may be special circumstances absolving the applicant from exhausting domestic remedies, for example if the applicant is able to establish that there has been a "pattern of violations" over a period of time, which Declan is claiming: among other things, he wrote to the jobcentre and also the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions informing them of the mistake in respect of the ceasing of entitlement but, in breach of regulation 27(1) of the Jobseeker's Allowance Regulations 1996, the decision was not changed, and neither was he provided with the explanation he was entitled to within a month for an automatic right to appeal to a social security appeal tribunal.)

We don’t know when notification from the Registrar will reach us but what we do know is that we are being squeezed to the last drop: Declan has been informed by Medecins du Monde UK that they won’t be writing any more prescriptions for us; the Big Issue has refused to sell us magazines in quantities of one, the only quantity we are now able to afford; and as I predicted in the blog of 20 January, the Tower Hamlets Council-run Idea Store Whitechapel has imposed a 3-hour limit on both our cards in respect of computer access.

Take Medecins du Monde UK. According to the website Medecins du Monde UK, theirs is "a healthcare initiative reaching out to vulnerable people in the UK who cannot access mainstream healthcare services", yet it seems that this worthy mandate doesn’t apply to either Declan or I. On 23 January, when Declan attended Medecins du Monde UK's Project: London Walk-in Medical Centre on Pott Street because we were both suffering from heavy colds, he was informed that in the future they would not write another prescription (Declan has this breach of mandate on record with, among others, the Secretary General of Medecins du Monde, Dr Fabrice Giraux). This is particularly hard-hitting because, as the director of Medecins du Monde UK is aware, the National Health Service (NHS) has repeatedly refused both Declan and I help with health costs, including the cost of prescriptions, because as sellers of The Big Issue we can only declare that our income covering the 4-week period prior to 25 October 2007 did not exceed our requirements by more than £3.43, the threshold level for qualification for a certificate HC2 (full help with health costs). Declan has already been hospitalised twice since we became rough sleepers on 3 November 2006, the first time in December 2006 with pneumonia, and the second last October with a viral infection – after he stood in his pitch for over an hour and a half selling the Big Issue in the rain - so not having access to any healthcare service means, on top of everything else, we now have to be particularly vigilant about weather.

Take The Big Issue. On Thursday Declan bought one Big Issue from the co-ordinator at Liverpool Street but when he attempted to buy another magazine from him on Friday, he was told that he could not buy Big Issues in quantities of one (the vendor pays 70p for a magazine, which sells for £1.50). Declan emailed the outreach manager, and would also have emailed John Bird, the founder and editor-in-chief of the Big Issue, except that in a letter dated 10 September – two days after Declan lodged his case against the UK with the European Court of Human Rights – Bird more or less told Declan to stop bothering him (ever since, Declan’s countless emails to the Big Issue regarding, among others, The London Paper, London Lite, Sport, ShortList, City AM, etc, seem to have fallen on deaf ears). Only last Tuesday evening, Declan was again walked off his pitch by the Evening Standard's freesheet, the London Lite: this time a street distributor of the freesheet chose to distribute directly in front of Declan, and at such a distance that Declan could have reached out and taken a paper from him.

I am still begging in the train station (normally from 6.50am to 8.15am, the time I need to put together a few pounds). I haven’t been arrested yet as the police officer – the same one that issued me my first ticket for begging on 13 November as his partner proceeded to call me "the scum of the earth", and then forcibly threw me out of the station – told me I would on 18 January. Needless to say, things are particularly difficult for us now that we have been left with nothing: I am still eating almost exclusively the bit of grated cheese and two white sandwich bread that the nuns from the Sisters of Mercy-run Dellow Centre give the homeless "for later", while Declan eats nothing for lunch and waits until the evening when normally the local Sainsbury's reduces some food (things have arrived to the point that Declan sometimes decides against walking the half hour it takes to get to his pitch in the late afternoon because he is too hungry and can't risk either being walked off by some street distributor or coming back empty handed and exhausted). I don't have to be reminded that just in front of the Idea Store Whitechapel is the Methodist Church-run Whitechapel Mission (which opens on weekends, unlike the Dellow Centre), where the homeless go to wash and buy a cheap breakfast, but which barred us back in June due to concerns about our safety. We are of course all up to soldier on in this unfortunate situation - not of our making - and I have even been keeping a diary since 19 November in the event the police arrest me and I find myself being prosecuted for begging (see "Defence for a court").

I can't but note that this encroachment of religion in public life is of course much worse in the Middle East. The case of Afghan Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, a 23-year-old student journalist, sentenced to death by religious judges in an Islamic court last week for downloading an internet report on women's rights, is a case in hand: on Wednesday, Afghanistan's upper house of parliament passed a motion confirming the death sentence, and it was only following widespread international protests and appeals to the President, Hamid Karzai, that the sentence has been withdrawn (of course, as pointed out in an article in the Independent on 31 January, "even if he is freed, it would be hard for the student to escape retribution in a country where fundamentalists and warlords are increasingly in the ascendancy").

The prevailing notion that religion is intrinsically deserving of respect, and should be handled with kid gloves, was noted on 5 April 2007 by award-winning journalist, author and former MP, Matthew Parris, in his Times column about Gordon Brown, then the Chancellor and now Prime Minister:

This summer Gordon Brown is to publish a book, Courage, profiling eight human studies in that quality. Whom has the politician chosen? Anyone dangerously controversial? Mr Brown has selected Martin Luther King, Nurse Edith Cavell, Robert Kennedy, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Raoul Wallenberg (who saved Hungarian Jews), Dame Cicely Saunders (of the hospice movement), Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela.

Courageous choices, Chancellor. No place here for Copernicus, though?

No, still a bit risky - he was only pardoned by the Vatican in 1993.

For the record, this is Declan’s letter of complaint against Idea Store Whitechapel, which he emailed on 29 January to the Head of Idea Stores, Ian McNichol (we subsequently learnt from the Council that our new 3-hour limit on computer access is irretractable):

Subject: Idea Store Whitechapel

Dear Mr McNicol,

I refer further to my original complaint of 21 January 2008 to Cllr Denise Jones, Leader of Tower Hamlets Council, regarding Idea Store Whitechapel and the repeated loss of computer bookings and internet access on both my wife's card (card no. D000350314) and my card (card no. D000355837) since 14 November 2007.

In my email to you yesterday evening in your capacity as Head of Idea Stores, to whom Cllr Jones referred my original complaint, I confirmed that although I had exhausted my limit of 3-hour computer time on computer 15 on floor 1, my wife was given an additional hour on my card from 5.14pm to 6.14pm on the standard "override" of the system, given computer availability. I further complained that, despite computer availability, I was later denied an extra hour on my wife's card, the member of staff stating that the "override" of the system - which has applied to both my wife's card and my own for many months now - no longer applies.

I can confirm that this afternoon, and despite computer availability, both my wife and I have been refused an additional hour of computer time, the same member of staff stating that the “override” of the system no longer applies to either my wife's card or my own.

As you are aware, on 21 January the manager of Idea Store Whitechapel, Mr Zoinul Abidin, wrote the following to me:

... you are free to make a complaint with the council's corporate complaints section. In future please approach them for any queries, as opposed to sending e-mails to me.

Please would you advise about the Idea Store booking system and the functionality of the system at your earliest possible convenience.

As I explained in my email of 21 January to Cllr Jones, since 22 October 2007 my wife has been using as much of her computer time in Idea Store Whitechapel as she can to contact distinguished scientists and academics to invite them to sign my petition to the United Nations in support of work on therapeutic cloning and the use of stem cells for research and for the treatment of disease. To date this petition has been signed by 295 scientists, including 21 Nobel prizewinners.

Yours sincerely,
Declan Heavey

cc Cllr Denise Jones, Leader of Tower Hamlets Council