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Showing posts from October, 2012

Sentimentalising Peggy

In Temple Gardens with the Thames close by she sits on a bench this homeless women, slumped forward, face pressed into a mound of belongings that she has stacked on her trolley with intricate care.Her face is pressed hard into the dirty clothing on top of her assortment of bags. Is she smothering herself?I stop and watch, but her breathing is deep and regular; the sleep of the constantly exhausted.

And, along with the Temple Court barristers and office workers, I walk on by. She is a local character, part of the scene. The outreach teams working with the homeless will certainly know her.I might ask about her when I get back to the office, but I’ve convinced myself.And then, with a flush of guilt, I remember Peggy.
For four years in the 1980s I was an outreach worker covering a patch stretching across most of central London from Kings Cross station down to Victoria at a time when the number of rough sleepers was vastly greater than today. Under the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s South …

American extremes: responses to homelessness in the United States

The United States is a land of extremes. Over the past decade I have travelled to Washington, New York and Boston to visit homelessness projects and the American experience has never failed to both inspire and appal.

In 2003, supported by a grant from the London Housing Foundation, I visited New York with a group from London to investigate how not-for-profit organisations working with the City Authority were tackling homelessness. In a crowded week we ricocheted between the distressingly dreadful and the utterly uplifting. On Manhattan’s East Side we visited the 850-bed Bellevue shelter, an intake shelter for New York’s most chaotic and vulnerable people. Security guards outnumbered support staff. Under blankets, in crowded dormitories men moaned and whimpered. Whist speaking to the manager in her office, one of those moments arrived which encapsulates an experience. A resident, eyes caste down in embarrassment, entered to request the loan of a toilet roll. This was not a place where y…