Thoughts about homelessness in London

Not profound ones, mind, just things that have atruck me recently.

1. From the top floor of the number 59 on my way from work I witnessed a homeless guy grudgingly empty his can of superlager into a drain under the impassive eye of a policeman/community support officer.
Granted, I didn’t catch the whole scene – the guy might have been spraying the pinstriped backs of London’s great and good with frothy brew – but assuming he was doing what most people do with alcohol, drinking it, for whose purpose is he prevented from doing so? Mine? I’m definitely aware of the impact that large-scale vagrancy has on a local environment, living in King’s Cross, but I hardly think confiscating cans of lager gets us anywhere better. For the homeless fellow? Now, I’m under no illusion that life on the streets is fun and games and bonhomie, but surely we’re not in the position of making decisions about responsible drinking and leisure activities for someone with a bagfull of possessions and a dearth of options?

2. On another day, at the end of my route, I passed yet another London Lite/London paper vendor (for those who don’t know, these are free evening papers which are being agressively shifted off to punters in a war for control of the market). I almost didn’t realise that’s who it was, as they were almost exactly in the spot of the local big issue seller, who, sure enough, was standing plaintively opposite offering his charity paper you have to pay for to folk who were having free papers thrust upon them. Now, this comparison was particularly acute, but it’s got to symbolise a wider trend. I’m not a big fan of the Issue – it can have some pretty good content but I tend to pick up my magaziney info (reviews, news pieces) online – but I would make an impulse buy if I was in a good mood and I had a journey ahead of me to fill. I imagine I’m not alone. With the agressive hawking of free (if utterly banal) content, I neither need more reading material nor desire another street transaction. I imagine I’m not alone in that either. The Issue is going to be squeezed by this. This seems to point at a problem with market solutions to social problems – the market is intrinsically callous, and indifferent to whether innocent bystanders get shot in a turf war. And whereas a failed venture isn’t the end of the world for a larger company, pushing the disadvantaged beyond a viable honest living is going to see them make other choices right now, rather than waiting to voice their displeasure at a stakeholders’ meeting.

3. As an addendum (this post was sitting in blorgatory the last few days) today I got approached by a homeless guy who asked to speak to me and then said “don’t run away! Why is everyone scared of me!”
Which, in my opinion, is quite an affective way of getting someone to be a little scared of them.
I did immediately, and fluidly, say “I’m not scared of you, mate” with a incredulous chuckle in my voice… but after I chucked him some scrilla and walked off I did get the sense of a bit of a near miss.

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