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 in our patch – the first time being on 7 Nov and the second on 8 Nov. 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 will visit us again when they have something for us. (Declan and I have been sleeping rough since we arrived in London on 3 Nov. We are carrying everything we own, incl documentation. And we still have another 11 days to go to our High Court hearing on 11 Dec.)

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. Seems to me 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 silence us and stop us running a network of those abused by church.

Yesterday was women’s clothing day in the Whitechapel Mission. At 7.30am I asked a member of staff for some items of clothing I need. 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 same member of staff that we would collect the clothes this morning. (The clothes I need are all necessities for rough sleeping – the last 2 nights have been particularly cold – like a thick jumper, wool stocks and hat, thermal long john pants and long-sleeved vest, etc.)

I wasn’t really expecting much by way of wearable clothes – especially since I had been trying to get a pair of jeans off them for over two weeks and got nothing except 2 pairs of jeans that didn’t fit. I wasn’t of course too mistaken: I asked for a hooded dark coloured jumper and I got literally the opposite; the cap they gave me … you would put it in a bin if you saw it on top of a chair in a library (I am sure somebody was in stitches when it was put in the bag). I did get 2 pairs of wool socks, thermal long john pants (but not the thermal long-sleeved vest), and 2 (65p Tesco value) underwear. Again, 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 have to walk for over 15 minutes from the Whitechapel Mission, carrying all our belongings along 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 give his/her name into an intercom to gain entry. At reception, you get a number which you then present at the kitchen counter in exchange for a tray.) 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 heating 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 which hour I had been given, wrong computer number, etc. Yesterday I was told that the maximum time allowed on a computer is 3 hours a day. Declan, smelling a rat, got the name of the manager of the library, and his email off another member of staff - zoinul.abidin@towerhamlets.gov.uk Today I have booked computers for a total of 8½ hours, although a member of staff told me I could only do so for a total of 6 hours. With the library making up policies in relation to us, Declan has emailed the manager, and for the record I am publishing it here.

Dear Mr Abidin

Further to our brief meeting this evening, I confirm 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 8½ 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 reply to the above that my wife could have to hand 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 more than 2 or 3 times.

Things have mushroomed in the Whitechapel Mission since the attempted assault on Declan and attempted robbery of our stuff there yesterday morning. By the time Declan had brought our breakfasts to our table at 8.10am, he had had to negotiate 6 homeless guys that 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 8.20am 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, but nevertheless 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 is 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 arrived at the front door from the court yard with the homeless guy who attempted to rob our stuff yesterday morning and handed him a key and a black bag containing clothes. (In conjunction with their Dellow Centre, the Sisters of Mercy run hostels, flats etc for homeless men and women.) Declan is expecting encounters with homeless to escalate, especially as we get closer to our High Court hearing on 11 Dec. I believe volunteers are not going to be a problem!

Declan emailed Prime Minister Tony Blair this afternoon (through the website of 10 Downing Street) re St Mungo's. We don’t expect a reply, but for the record I am publishing the email here.

Dear Prime Minister

Further to my telephone conversation this afternoon with Ms Christine Adeyoola (Direct Line: 020 7944 8991), Assistant Private Secretary to the Minister for Housing and Planning, please be advised that since 3 November 2006 my wife and I have been sleeping rough in the same ‘patch’ in Tower Hamlets waiting for St Mungo’s, London’s largest homelessness organisation, to provide us with a referral to a night shelter.

On 18 November (about 4.00am), my wife was assaulted in the patch. A full account of this assault is contained in her blog at http://network-of-those-abused-by-church.blogspot.com/2006/11/assaulted-while-sleeping-in-our-patch.html

Please advise if the dereliction of duty of care on the part of St Mungo’s in this instance falls within the remit of your office.

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

I beg to point out that 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 following the decision of 27 September by Birmingham Erdington Jobcentre Plus to terminate my joint claim for unemployment benefit (from 19 September) because I did not 'sign on' two days before I was due to do so on 29 September.

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 events. As it turned out, last night was no different than any other night, only colder.

I had been sleeping with 3 layers of clothing covering my legs, the outer one being the jeans the nun in charge of clothes in the Dellow Centre gave me 2 weeks ago. The jeans are now too 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, as we normally do at night. This time, however, I am told the coffee machine is not working. Before we leave, Declan asks if the two people drinking coffee at the table next to our bags got the last two cups. He is informed that they did, and that the machine will be out of action for the night!

This morning things got quite aggressive for us in the Whitechapel Mission. Declan was about to leave for the toilet to wash when a homeless guy in his late twenties demanded that he give him the plastic bag that Declan had on the floor with all our toiletries. Declan explained to him why that wasn’t possible, but the guy wouldn’t back down.

We have never had any problems in the mission before so I suspected this was a set up – the guy was looking 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 one of his friends kept 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 – 5 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? It was our documentation that was the first thing that the two policemen asked us for the first time we were interrogated in our patch. Rough sleeping without any documentation is the surest way to end up in police custody. Tough new anti-terrorist laws have given the police in this country tremendious power.

It seems clear why St Mungo's hasn’t given us the referral we need to get into a night shelter, despite 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 (Councillor Denise Jones), and has emailed the Minister for Housing and Planning, Yvette Cooper MP on the issue.

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 Nov, only to put it back the next day after I had 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 Nov), but only lasted 1 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 2-3 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 3 hours – hitting the keyboard so hard I am 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, nor 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 Nov. Somehow I thought he was going to recover and become a big embarrassment to 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 being alive. Could Litvinenko’s investigation of the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya on 7 Oct 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 seeking a network of those abused by church doesn’t get you killed, yet with the level of surveillance we are under, and the destructive intent of the Metropolitan Police in relation to us, I don’t think we are that far off.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone joined multi-faith speakers at the Methodist Central Hall on 20 Nov 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, eg right-to-die campaigners, gays, stem cell research supporters, and 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, very hot inside my sleeping bag. My bad throat is getting better though, as result of the non-prescription medication Declan has me under. We again brought cardboard all the way from Whitechapel Road to our patch, a walk of 40 minutes. This cardboard we found outside the (new) London Muslim Centre, a huge building that can hold 10,000 people but which most of the time is almost completely empty. It’s quite clear that the Blair government is throwing a lot of money at the Muslim leaders of this country.

Muslim leaders are also calling for 150 private Muslim schools to be state-funded. Next they will be sitting in the House of Lords, as unelected religious Muslim leaders (with full voting rights), just as 26 unelected Church of England bishops currently do. That could 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). Human rights could be at stake here.

Would it be preferable to declare schools, hospitals and all other arms of state legally secular? Terry Sanderson, vice-president of the National Secular Society, believes 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.”

Declan emailed the Minister for Housing and Planning, Yvette Cooper, this afternoon re St Mungo’s. We really don’t expect a reply, but for the record I am publishing the email here.

Dear Minister

Further to my telephone conversation yesterday afternoon with your Assistant Private Secretary, Ms Christine Adeyoola, please be advised that for the past three weeks my wife and I have been sleeping rough in the same ‘patch’ in Tower Hamlets waiting for St Mungo’s, London’s largest homelessness organisation, to provide us with a referral to a night shelter.

Early last Saturday morning (about 4.00am), my wife was assaulted in the patch. A full account of this assault is contained in her blog here.

Please advise if St Mungo’s dereliction of duty of care in this instance falls within the remit of your office.

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

I beg to point out that 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 following the decision of 27 September by Birmingham Erdington Jobcentre Plus to terminate my joint claim for unemployment benefit (from 19 September) because I did not 'sign on' two days before I was due to do so on 29 September.

Yours sincerely
Declan Heavey


In relation to the weather, rough sleepers could be in trouble this weekend. It is reported in this morning's (free) Metro newspaper that Britain “will be battered by potentially dangerous gales and gusts of up to 120kph (75mph) this weekend”. How nice! Will the underground passes be flooded as well?

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 some clothes off, especially my coat, but I 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, no vegetables – just saturated fats. In the Whitechapel Mission you pay 45p for a made-up breakfast of baked beans, 2 sausages, 2 fried eggs and 2 slices of white bread toasted (coffee and tea is free). Fancy eating that for 10 years, every day of the week. No surprise the life expectancy of a homeless person is 44 years old.

Food is worse in the Dellow Centre. The staple diet is a plastic cup of cheap orange juice, some cereal (cornflakes, wheatabix or porridge – the latter not every day), a cup of soup (if we’re lucky), 2-4 slices of white bread toasted, a maximum of 2 cups of coffee or tea, and 1 white bread cheese sandwich “for later”. Three weeks ago there was some variety – maybe a bowl of fruit, some tomatoes, a Marks & Spencer treat, a chicken sandwich or whatever. All of that is history now.

To save money I was keeping my sandwich and Declan’s sandwich as my dinner together with a banana or other fruit that Declan would buy in Sainsbury. I am not hungry by lunch time, so all I would have mid-afternoon is a banana and 1 or 2 donuts (they are cheap at 12p each). I am getting so sick of the cheese sandwiches that 2 nights ago it took me 45 minutes to eat one (all the way from the library to where our patch is). Last night Declan insisted that I put the sandwiches in the bin and eat half of his dinner (a large roll with cheap sardines), which I gladly did.

This morning I didn’t even bother taking the cheese sandwiches with me – I couldn’t even eat their white bread toasted. While I was in the queue for breakfast, the guy in front of me was given two pieces of chicken but when it was my turn and I asked for some chicken too, I was told he had got the last piece. I really don’t think it is worth it, to be at the Dellow Centre every morning at 9.00am, sometimes queuing for over twenty minutes, 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 a computer with access to the internet for 1 hour and free prints – Declan printed our blog there. But since the printer stopped functioning (that is what we were told) and we discovered that they are all rapt up in the Dellow Centre, we are not bothering anymore. We now spend all our time in the library from 12.30pm to 8.30pm. I am an avid reader, so I am quite happy about our new arrangement. We also do a lot of work there in relation to my blog. I need Declan – among other things – to correct my English because I am Spanish.

Today in the Whitechapel Mission Declan was given a plastic bag with some clothes for me – 2 pairs of jeans, a belt and a pair of gloves. I had to return the 2 pairs of jeans because they didn’t fit. Declan has tired of this cat and mouse game and has given me money to buy a second-hand pair of jeans in a charity shop like Oxfam or Barnardos. We just have to come across one.

I think, however, that it is outrageous that I have to spend money we don’t have on a pair of jeans when the Whitechapel Mission boasts in their website that they "offer the largest clothing store in London available to the homeless". Well, not for all homeless, it appears.

St Mungo's CAT hasn’t come to visit us either, despite that Declan has spoken to the PA to Charles Fraser, the chief executive of St Mungo’s. Doing a bit of research on their website, I learnt in their annual review for 2005 they cite a turnover of £37.2m. (The Sisters of Mercy’s Dellow Centre doesn’t bother publishing any financial information in their website, but with a patron like the Duke of Norfolk, and well-known companies like L’Oreal, Marks & Spencer and Lush making donations, one can guess the centre has quite a healthy turnover also. Surely they could afford to give us better food.)

More important for us are the statutory partners of St Mungo’s, which are, among others, the Department for Work and Pensions and Jobcentre Plus (of the DWP) – the very same institutions that have made us homeless. They also name as a statutory partner the Metropolitan Police – the very same institution that is harassing us and orchestrating everything around us. No wonder we can’t get St Mungo’s 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 register our complaint against St Mungo’s, and Charles Fraser in particular, with the Minister for Housing and Planning, Yvette Cooper. Initially, he was told that he needed to deal with our local authority, Tower Hamlets Council. So, true to form, Declan speaks with Angela Grazette, Private Secretary to the Leader of Tower Hamlets Council, Councillor Denise Jones (who is also the Leader of Tower Hamlets Labour Group). This afternoon Grazette phoned Declan back to inform him that his complaint against St Mungo’s does not fall within the remit of Tower Hamlets Council, and that the Minister responsible (as we already knew) is Yvette Cooper. He then gets through to Christine Adeyoola, Assistant Private Secretary to Cooper and is told to email the Minister with his complaint at psyvettecooper@communities.gsi.gov.uk

Don’t take our word for it, but I think it is becoming very clear who (or what institution, if you don’t want to point a finger at anybody) is giving the directive to the Metropolitan Police in relation to us.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Catholic church and freedom of expression

Same night as the previous night – cold and pain in my legs as a result of the cold. As predicted, the police did turn up – only not to our patch. As we were preparing to bed down, we heard two of them behind us, 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 last few days.

Just like the previous night, Declan didn’t find any cardboard in his usual spot. However, this time he was prepared and had brought lots of cardboard from the Whitechapel Road. Somebody went to a lot of trouble for nothing.

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 of the building, 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 you wouldn’t know are homeless) are all dressed top to bottom by the mission staff, with whatever the staff want to dress them up in. It wouldn’t be practical for a start.

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

Anyway, I told the member of staff (a Polish woman) what I most needed: 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 to give me tomorrow morning.

As we were walking toward 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 of expression (I would be in jail if I didn’t have it), and, as such, I am exercising it.

We have a right to run an organisation that calls for the separation of church and state, and the scientific examination of religion; and that campaigns for reproductive rights (incl the legalisation of abortion), the use of condoms in the fight against Aids, embryonic stem cell research, voluntary euthanasia, gay rights et al.

The Catholic church, in particular, is inconsistent with the principles of 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.

My opinion is that nothing threatens the authority of the Catholic church more than liberal democracy. Liberal democracy’s fundamental philosophy is reason and free inquiry, while 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 can the Catholic church have with their history. Forget about the Inquisition and the persecution of Galileo. There are many more recent atrocities; for example, the association of the church with fascism, not only in Spain but in Italy and Germany. Also the complicity of senior figures in the Catholic hierarchy with the horrors of Argentina’s military rule that “disappeared” up to 30,000 citizens from 1976-83, becoming known thanks to the investigations of writer Horacio Verbitsky. Even closer in time is the ongoing sexual abuse scandal, with the extensive role of bishops in silencing victims, blocking investigations and permitting abuse to continue.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Alexander Litvinenko’s situation and ours

Last night was very cold. Despite that I wear 3 layers of clothing on my legs, I keep waking up with pain all through them due to the cold – while the rest of my body is more or less warm. 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 actually sleep on the ledge of the building in front of our patch – they are 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 none there, only a van. He had no sooner turned to return to the patch, when the van took off. I wouldn't be surprised if the police pay us a fourth visit tonight.

No St Mungo's CAT came to visit us at our patch last night either, despite Declan having spoken yesterday with the PA to Charles Fraser, the chief executive of St Mungo's. He obviously couldn't care less about our predicament (not even that I was assaulted early last Saturday morning in the patch), even though 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 the homeless off the street.

Tomorrow is women's clothes day in the Whitechapel Mission from 8.00am to 9.30am. When we left the mission today, we saw plenty of large plastic bags full of clothes in the main hallway of the building. They are going to have quite a bit of a problem telling me 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 dropping plastic bags containing clothes (even shoes) 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 a week and a half ago: an old pair of jeans that are 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 is because they don’t believe we will survive, that when our judicial review renewal hearing comes up in the High Court on 11 Dec, the judge is going to throw out our case a second time, 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 (incl Appellant’s notice) and is confident he can file any appeal within 48 hours. It would be a first: two rough sleepers filing an appeal against a High Court judge. It might even interest a journalist!

The back of floor 3 in the library Idea Store Whitechapel is becoming akin to a university meeting place. 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 10 metres away from my desk, has just told me that 2 members of the staff were having a great chat beside him – I am wearing earplugs so all I can hear is what is around me, in this case staff at the help desk, unfortunately.

Anyway, Declan reckons that he is supposed to confront the 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 had these kinds of plays (looking for confrontation) for years now, so obviously we are not going to fall prey to it here. Declan, in particular, has become a master at avoiding confrontation. Anybody interested in the methods and techniques the police use to neutralise a government threat (even a small one, like us) should read about the COINTELPRO operations (a series of counterintelligence programs designed by the FBI to neutralise political dissidents), in particular the things they did around the time of the American civil rights movement. It’s an eye opener!

I have been following the news (as much as a homeless can) about Alexander Litvinenko. Litvinenko, a former KBG colonel and harsh critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, fell ill on 1 Nov after a meeting at a London sushi bar. Clinical toxicologist, John Henry, who examined him, told the BBC there was no doubt he had been poisoned by thallium (a colourless rat poison), probably at the bar on 1 Nov. Friends said Litvinenko had “no doubt that he was poisoned at the instigation of the Russian government”. Litvinenko fled Russia and now lives in the UK.

I do find similarities between Litvinenko’s situation and ours. He was poisoned because he is a harsh critic of the Russian President, while we are homeless, sleeping rough and harassed by the police because we are harsh critics of Christian churches. There is one significant difference though: while Litvinenko was granted political asylum by the British government in 2001, it is the British 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 awakening with pain in my legs because of the cold. I don’t have any more clothes to put on, but even if I had, I wouldn’t be able to wear them. I can hardly move in my sleeping bag! Declan also brings lots of cardboard from a place nearby (although we are still waiting for the night when all the cardboard has been taken away and Declan will have to take a long walk).

This morning Declan insisted we do a laundry – I wasn’t that enthusiastic 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 already booked, or we have to wait until 10.45am – which means we can’t wash our jeans and have to return to the centre to collect the washing from the dryer at 1.15pm.

While waiting outside the Dellow Centre, there was a homeless woman in the queue with a dog. (There is another 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 our own dog (of 9 years) which we were forced to put down two days before leaving Dublin for the UK. The reason for this was because it was made quite clear to us that he was never going to survive. We always knew that the UK was going to be much tougher than Ireland, so we took the threat seriously.

This morning Declan spoke to Linda Lockyer, PA to Charles Fraser, chief executive of St Mungo's. He informed her, further to the message he left for Fraser on her voice mail last Friday, that I was assaulted early Saturday morning in our patch, that it’s getting cold and rainy, and that having been sleeping rough for over 2 weeks now, we would appreciate a visit from our St Mungo’s CAT and the referral we need to get into a night shelter. Her response to all that was “OK.” Having actually spoken to Fraser’s PA, it remains to be seen how he will deal with us, if at all.

In relation to the Missionaries of Charity – the only ones that do self-referral in London – we are not phoning them again until we have saved £10.00. The last time (15 Nov), not only did we spend another £2.50 phoning their two night shelters, but when Declan phoned back the female one to establish when was the latest 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 places) and one of us is going to be turned away at the door. These nuns are behaving very much like “what are you going to do about it?” I think 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 the bases of 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 in the establishment, but this alcoholic guy came in with a beer anyway. He was so drunk 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 long-term alcoholics that eat in the Whitechapel 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 in their establishment, they have turned the TV over to the Discovery Channel. Really, is there anything more remotely removed from a homeless life than the Discovery Channel? Homeless here must agree with me, 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 off the internet.

Today, while reading the History Today magazine in the library (oops, I will never get the magazine again), 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 the separation of church and state and would like the Queen to resign as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England? In 2000, for example, the Liberal Democrats voted overwhelmingly in favour of ending the Queen’s right to be head of the Church of England.

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 the marriage 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. 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’, accounting 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, 7 Muslim and 2 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 Faith" – Christianity. He has also told senior staff 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 representatives of the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Sikh etc religious communities are going to be given full voting rights?

According to the National Secular Society, Britain should have a clear distinction between state and religion, like both the United States and France (among others). The US is the best example of a country founded on a separation of state and religion. 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 to 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 around 4.00am yesterday morning), is evidence that this is truth?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

I am assaulted in our patch

Last night, despite the phone call that Declan made yesterday morning to the chief executive of St Mungo's concerning their dereliction of duty in relation to us, no St Mungo’s CAT visited us in our patch with a view to providing us with the referral we need to get into a night shelter. Instead, I was assaulted by a guy on a mobile phone, while sleeping.

It happened like this: early in the morning I am woken by some guy shouting aggressively some distance away. As the shouting gets louder, I know he is heading towards us. (Our patch, on a well-lit secondary street, is the porch of a side door entry to an office building, and is usually well lit by hall lights through the glass side door – anybody passing by, even in a car, can see us.)

I stick my head out of the sleeping bag and open my eyes – I hear Declan doing the same. As the guy walks past, I can see he is stocky, in his thirties, and shouting into a mobile phone. He keeps walking down the road and Declan and I get back to sleep. However, about 1 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-sleeping on the outside on my back). By the time I realise what has happened, the guy is gone – no shouting, no noise, just silence.

The guy actually had to negotiate two steps before sitting, meaning, as far as I am concerned, he knew exactly what he was doing. I was well inside my sleeping bag, protected by it, but if he had timed the whole sitting business wrong, he could have done me quite a bit of damage, either to my nose or my neck. The whole episode must have woken Declan because he turned around to ask me if something had happened.

Declan also left his glasses in the (new) library Idea Store Whitechapel yesterday afternoon, just before it closed at 6.00pm. We were convinced that if the staff found them, he would never get them back. Ever since the first day staff, and in particular the security guards (almost two dozen of them), have let us know what kind of instructions they are following. For example, when we book a computer it is not uncommon to find we can’t use it because the mouse or something else is not working, or we are given a computer in floors other than where we are so that we have to go up and down with all our things (the library has 4 floors). 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 to where the heat was supposed to be coming from and there was nothing. There wasn’t even air!

So when Declan lost his glasses, he was convinced they were gone and that he would have to go to the Whitechapel Mission to see if he could get another pair. I just can’t imagine the obstacles we would have encountered – they can’t even give me a pair of jeans.

However, we were lucky. Declan got into the library as soon as it opened at 9.00am, straight to the 2nd floor. And there, in 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 Sainsbury and took a walk around a 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 our library, 95% of the staff are Muslim, almost a whole floor is about Islamic religion, and when you fill in the membership form under ‘Ethnicity’, white is the last option. Not that I have a problem with it. I quite like all the Muslim stalls along Whitechapel Road (and other areas) where you can buy cheap stuff, notwithstanding that most of the products don’t have a price tag.

Anyway, the point of all of this is that obviously Islamic religion is becoming an important force in the UK. And if the Muslim leaders demand special treatment for their religion as their Christian colleagues already have, 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 secularism.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Phone call to the CEO of St Mungo’s

Last night was a quiet night – we didn’t have any further visits from the police. We usually get up at 6.00am – I tidy up, do the sleeping bags etc, while Declan collects the cardboard and brings it back to the skip. I find it so amusing watching him pile the cardboard in groups of the same size – anybody walking past sees neat piles of cardboard on the path. Declan says it is easier to carry it all in one go, but I know he loves organising things.

Anyway, after the breakfast in the Whitechapel Mission, we arrived at the gates of the Dellow Centre at 9.15am, only to be informed that nobody could enter 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 am 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 M-F from 9.15am to 11.30am.

We were on our way to the library to spend the time when Declan decided to phone the chief executive of St Mungo's (a Catholic organisation) for the referral we need from them for a night shelter. The Dellow Centre will not put in another request on our behalf to have our St Mungo’s CAT visit us again at our patch because, according to the centre, 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 another visit. If Declan wasn’t phoning the CAT, the police would have moved us on by now.

The first time Declan phones the chief executive 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 on 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 never is. Declan has to phone again, this time asking to be put straight through to the voice mail of Lockyer. He leaves a message for Charles 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 his name and patch address, and confirms that we were visited and verified as rough sleepers almost two weeks ago but nobody has visited us since. The cost of the phone calls: 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.

We arrived at our patch at about 11.00pm. It was like a disco. The whole building (of offices) was lighten up, and the alarm in our patch flashed a blue light every few seconds. We had a bet. Declan reckoned we were going to be visited by the police. I reckoned we were being threatened with a late-working employee, who doesn’t like homeless people sleeping in the porch of the building in which he works and decides to phone the police.

Good as my theory was, it was Declan who got it right. Between 11.00pm and 11.45pm a police car passed by our patch 6 times. The fourth time it actually stopped a few seconds before moving on. We were no sooner in our sleeping bags when a policeman turns up on foot. He points his baton at the alarm and asks what is the story with the flashing blue light. Then, of course, it is 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 in the spot … Before leaving he asks to see the tickets the two policemen issued us last Saturday night.

At about 4.00am he returns again, this time 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, only to return a few seconds later. When I look up he is talking from his car with a security guard – both looking with great interest at the flashing blue light. Then they both leave. Declan slept throughout all of this – I had to tell him in the morning.

So although I lost the bet – next time we are given a free coffee I have to give mine to Declan – my theory is still alive and well. We are expecting an increase in police activity as we approach our High Court judicial review renewal hearing on 11 Dec against the Department for Work and Pensions following the termination of our unemployment benefit from 19 Sept.

Whitechapel Mission didn’t have any clothes to give me today either (despite that yesterday was women’s clothes day), but told me that next Wednesday it will be women’s clothes as usual.

Today at 1.30pm when I accessed a computer in the library, I had an email from Bravehost about the suspension of our NAC website yesterday – it was all a problem with their servers. That doesn’t cut any 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 in our patch, while Declan was out collecting some cardboard, a guy came to me and gave me £1.00.

As far as I am concerned, homeless people have few options to make some money. I know of only two: begging or selling The Big Issue. There is of course stealing … mostly used by drug users. When it comes to The Big Issue, rough sleepers are effectively disqualified from selling it. Are you supposed to drag all your things, including your sleeping bag, along to The Big Issue office, collect a bunch of magazines and head off to your registered selling patch, where you leave everything beside you as you are selling them? So unrealistic, especially in London.

Our first choice when we came to London was to stay around central London – easy access to food and to The Big Issue office. We also thought it would not be too difficult to get a night shelter where we would not only have a bed but a place to leave at least two sleeping bags and clothes.

When the Dellow Centre sent us to The Passage (a day centre run by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul and Westminster Cathedral and located close to Victoria Station) and they told us more or less to go back to Birmingham, it occurred to us that we may very well be left sleeping rough. Central London being 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 6.00am.

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

In relation to the Missionaries of Charity, Declan phoned them again this morning. The nun in the women’s shelter tells Declan there is a place for me. He then phones the men’s shelter and the 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. Had they intended having me travel to where they are, only to turn me away?

All of that cost us another £2.50 – in total we have spent well over £5.00 phoning the Missionaries of Charity. And because the Dellow Centre will not put in another referral on our behalf to our St Mungo’s CAT, Declan had also to spend money phoning the CAT himself, leaving a message to the effect that we are still at our registered patch waiting for them to visit us.

Our escapades don’t finish there. Wednesdays between 8.00am and 9.30am is women’s clothes time in the Whitechapel Mission. The few homeless women that turn up every morning are all quite well dressed by the mission. 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 etc. I am told they have nothing. When Declan asks the same worker what day is the 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 to ask him again tomorrow.

I don’t know how a non-religious organisation would behave in relation to us, but I doubt they would participate so willingly in a government agenda. However, I don’t believe a non-religious organisation goes far enough. Crisis, a national charity we have been calling into in the evenings, is non-religious. And yet, while 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 was 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.

8.30pm Update

Today, NAC website was taken off the internet. It just says it is a “Suspended Website”, that it is “currently not active”. We have emailed Bravehost for an explanation. I tried to upload it all over again (the 1,938 files, including images), but I wasn't allowed. NAC hasn't been deleted, all files are still in their server, which I can access through Bravehost Website Manager, but I 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 11.00pm 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 | Woke up at 6.00am. Today it is a week since Declan and I started sleeping rough. St Mungo's, on police instruction, is leaving us sleeping rough at a time when the weather is getting worse. Tonight, for example, it is expected to rain.

Declan spent a bad night – coughing and sniffing. And this morning, while we were queuing to get into the Dellow Centre, he cleared his sinuses and 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 evening at Trafalgar Square two different groups distribute hot food and soft drinks to homeless people from vans. It is very popular and attracts a large crowd. A feast, if you are a homeless person. Last week we had rice, chicken, cokes, bananas etc. Problem is we have to walk for two hours there and back – carrying all our belongings, including sleeping bags. Also I don’t think Declan is in a position to walk that long in his condition. So I think we will have to skip it this time.

Yesterday morning, at about 10.30am, I tried to get some clothes in the Dellow Centre that I needed. It turned 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 – and no, I can’t see the clothes and choose something myself – she comes back some minutes later with a plastic bag. Inside there is a pink tee-shirt and a white jumper (is she naive or have I been targeted for special treatment?) and a pair of old blue jeans that are too big for me. My black jeans are no good anymore, so I have no choice but to wear the blue jeans. I can’t even wear my belt, because it doesn’t fit. I have no intention of asking the same nun again for a belt and another jumper. I shouldn’t have bothered asking her in the first place.

I have already said in a recent entry that the Dellow Centre is run by the Sisters of Mercy, an Irish order. They have quite a history. Were heavily involved in the running of Magdalene Laundries all over Ireland and other countries like Australia, France, 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 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. 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. This strategy is going to have to be repeated 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, our predicament would be resolved if St Mungo's CATs did their job and found us a night shelter to spend the night. But it is too tempting for the police to leave us at the mercy of the elements. With some luck we could even get pneumonia! That wishful thinking is not pie in the sky. Many of the homeless here – in the Whitechapel Mission and the Dellow Centre – have serious health problems. They cough constantly – I am amazed some of them are not in hospital – and you can see it hurts. It is not possible to function if you are that sick. And it is just so easy to mess with you. That is how the police want us, especially Declan. And St Mungo's – the largest organisation in London working with the homeless – are following police instruction. No questions asked.

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 the ones left are those with additions, aggressive behaviour … and Declan and I. It makes you wonder what other people are the police going after – doing the government’s bidding. Our raison d'etre – hardly a national security matter – is the separation of church and state, which any reasonable person (self-interest aside) couldn't argue against, especially with the resurgence of fundamentalist religion throughout the world.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Sleeping in the park

12.00pm. We have just left the Dellow Centre. Had a shower and did the laundry – almost felt like a normal being.

Although there is no sun shining, I am sitting on a bench in the park – my shoes off because my feet are getting sore with all the walking we are doing. Declan is lying down on another bench across the park, with his sleeping bag as a pillow. As I am looking at him, I know everybody knows he is homeless. No person with a home lies down on a bench in the park and goes to sleep. People are passing him by, giving him a quick glance as they go their way.

I pretend that he is somebody else. I look at him again. All I see is his isolation and bottomless loneliness. I hope that someday 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 his isolation and loneliness. Best choice is to give money to an organisation. For me though religious organisations don’t cut it. However, find a secular organisation running a day centre of a sort that opens early and closes late, offers free meals, clothing (without red tape), coffee/tea all day, TV area … support an organisation like that and you are helping to 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 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 with her business card. He is now waiting outside the phone box for a possible call, while I am waiting for them in our patch – our rucksacks packed and the cardboard removed to the skip.

It is not that we don’t know what is going on. We do. It’s about making everything as difficult as possible for us. Take for example the CAT. We waited 4 nights for the CAT to visit us. They turned up yesterday at 6.30am. When they turned up, it was not to refer us to a night shelter but to check we are rough sleepers, which they need to verify this morning. That is 5 nights sleeping rough on the street. And you can bet we will not be referred to a night shelter tonight ... Anyway, they are here now.

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8.00am. We just made it to the Whitechapel Mission – Declan is queuing at the moment to get our breakfast. In relation to the CAT, we have been told St Mungo’s has now verified us. We are officially rough sleepers! We were not offered a night shelter for tonight, though.

We will have to assume that when the St Mungo's CAT workers do their rounds at night – visiting rough sleepers and phoning night shelters to take them off the street – they will visit us also. Just in case they don’t, Declan and I are already checking bridges to sleep under when the rain and the snow arrives, which may be sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

St Mungo's

Woke up at 3.50am and saw that Declan was fast asleep. Still, I called to him and asked him did he want to get up. I find it quite easy to write my blog between 4.30am and 6.00am. As I am walking toward the Whitechapel Mission, the darkness and silence helps me to put my thoughts together with some structure. When I arrive at the mission and sit down my hand is already writing freely.

Anyway, Declan was warm in his new sleeping bag and wanted to get back to sleep. My back was aching because I had slept in the same position all night – with clothes, big coat and runners on, it is very 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 CAT!

I let Declan do all the talking (how much talking does a rough sleeper need to do?) and started folding the sleeping bags and generally cleaning 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 was starting to take place on our street.

It turns out that contrary to what the internet says a CAT (Contact and Assessment Team) does, the CAT's call was not to provide us with a referral to a night shelter, but 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 Declan and I in our patch. They said they were going to send us a copy via email. So if they send it, I will post it in this blog! Declan – don't know how he did it – obtained the girl's business card and they left. They come from St Mungo's (another Catholic organisation), London's largest homelessness organisation, housing more than 1,200 people each night in over 60 hostels, care homes and supported housing.

Tomorrow I will again report on this St Mungo's CAT. Hopefully their verification will not take long and we can be at least promoted to sleeping on two chairs away from the elements.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Professional rough sleepers!

1.00pm. We are in a park – wonderful weather. Hauling your goods around doesn’t feel that difficult when the sun is shining. Also, to be able to sit on a bench in a park gives you a much needed break. We don’t look really homeless – at least not yet. Whitechapel Mission has toilets and showers available, so we do our best to keep as clean and presentable as possible. Bigger problem is clothes.

Places like the Salvation Army do give some clothes but they are quite far from our area. I still have to find out if there are other day centres available to us, close by. The Dellow Centre has a laundry service (do it yourself, obviously), but at 11.30am all the homeless must leave, regardless of activity. So I keep putting off a laundry, unthinkable really if I was living like a normal person.

Declan got his military sleeping bag from the Whitechapel Mission. It appears the Dellow Centre has a list where they register your name and the item(s) you need. Don’t know if this is just red tape or a waiting list. Anyway, with this new acquisition, Declan and I are now professional rough sleepers!

In relation to the CAT, Declan has informed the Dellow Centre that a CAT never made contact with us over the weekend. The centre has referred us again for contact and assessment tonight.

The singing bird

5.10am. Woken by Declan at 3.50am. I was actually deep in sleep when I felt Declan's hand and voice. For a split second I didn't even know why Declan was calling me. That is of course very good news – I am getting some quality rest. Still no CAT.

This morning we are going to the Dellow Centre to ask for a sleeping bag. There shouldn't be a problem – it was the centre that gave me the military sleeping bag I've got. The centre is a modern and spacious place, with big gates. You don't get to just walk in; there is an intercom check first. From 9.15am to 11.30am rough sleepers can get a free breakfast, some TV if they want or just hang about in the front yard 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 is closed. We don't know yet where the local homeless get their lunch or dinner from Monday to Friday without walking for hours.

While I was putting stuff into our rucksacks, Declan was moving the cardboard to a skip around the corner 30 metres. Having finished my own work, I walked the remaining cardboard to the corner for Declan. 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. But there was this bird – with his own patch – very obviously surviving in adverse circumstances. Nobody could say he wouldn't have an easier time in a park or the woods. That was resilience on the part of the bird – no bird under the weather there! It really gave me hope. His situation wasn't different to our own. He has to find food, maybe some water, and has to be warm at night – all in adversity.

Declan and I were talking about that as we were walking toward the Whitechapel Mission when we went underground to cross the main road. There, off the tunnel, was a patch that some homeless guys had built for themselves. Declan checked 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 something inside for a table. And then I saw a small teddy bear on their table beside a couple of apples!

I knew I was looking at a pattern here. There was a similarity between the bird and this small group of homeless guys. They had both been thrown into a situation and both were making the best of it. These guys were not stupid and you don't get to keep a teddy bear in such a way if you don't have some sort of hope. And the same with the bird – he doesn't get to sing at 4.00am if he doesn't have hope. But that hope only grows as a result of resilience. There I had it: the magic word was "resilience". And resilience is there for all, people and animals. It is there for us – Declan and I. We must make the best of our situation, learn to be resilient, think resilience, all the time, in every change of events. Hope will then grow. 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 have us.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Surviving

Cold again. Declan doesn’t have a military sleeping bag like mine and woke up at 3.30am, freezing and unable to go back to sleep. I, on the other hand, was (relatively) comfortable and warm. Could have been there 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. Must avoid pneumonia at all costs. I should mention that no CAT came by. Also no police car!

As we made our way to the Whitechapel Mission, I found myself measuring places against each other as to which one was the warmer inside. My favourite is the London Muslim Centre … so big, new, empty and bright.

I am now sitting on cardboard Declan found nearby, writing this blog and waiting for the mission to open at 6.00am. Declan is fast asleep in my sleeping bag. There are some rough sleepers (Poles) a few feet away. There seems to be quite a number of Eastern Europeans living in the street. This government is very keen to have cheap labour from Eastern Europe in the UK but those 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 the open ones too far away from our area. 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 are 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 to type the content of the blog on Microsoft Word for printing and correction later in the evening. For a night meal, we bought a roll, a tin of sardines and two bananas in Sainsbury and ate nearby.

Having uploaded our blog in an internet café, by 11.00pm we were back at our patch with nothing to do except protect ourselves against the wind and cold.

Being a rough sleeper makes everything a lot harder because you are constantly on the street, being challenged by the elements, carrying everything you own along … This is why rough sleepers are so worn down and sick. It makes me angry to know we must all sleep on the street while there are so many empty buildings that could easily and cheaply be turned into shelters at night. Not even a bed, just sleeping bags or even chairs. Anything is better than the cold and concrete. What dignity has a person got when he/she is not even worth a sleeping bag in an empty building?

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 4 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, during the day homeless people go to day centres which are open at different times during the day. I guess many just 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 are determined to beat this new state 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, street smart, tough 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, London informing him that at a hearing on 11 December Mr Justice Collins will reconsider his decision of 13 October to deny Declan permission to apply for judicial review against the Department for Work and Pensions. 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 are supposed to survive that long. The British government (any government, really) has so many resources at its disposal to take out any inconvenience it is hard to believe people have broken through pre-internet and pre-blogs.

Changing the subject, 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 prior to when 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 (the venue changes every few days) are run by churches 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 CAT (Contact and Assessment Team). A CAT visits such people during the night 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 Whitechapel Mission (Methodist) to the Dellow Centre (Sisters of Mercy). 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 (Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul and Westminster Cathedral). We were met there by another adviser who told us we had no local connections to London and therefore would not get any services from them and really we should take the bus (coincidently) from Victoria Station and go back to Birmingham. When we pointed out our right to free movement within the EU, she quickly changed her tune and told us that no CAT will be visiting rough sleepers around Victoria Station on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, and that we should call back on Monday for a stage 1 assessment for Housing Benefit.

Getting the picture, we made our way back to the Dellow Centre, this time with a local "patch" chosen by us to sleep for the night. The Dellow Centre took the details to provide the Thames Reach Bondway rescue team with the referral they require to visit us at the patch of our choosing between 11.00pm and 4.00am.

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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 bed down 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 sleeping bags are providing some protection. I am sure no CAT will visit us.

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It's 7.00am. Just to confirm that no CAT came our way. At 5.00am we woke up so cold that we decided to make our way to Whitechapel Mission, the only day centre that opens at 6.00am for free coffee and biscuits. It was pitch dark as we walked. Next week the weather is expected to take a turn for the worse! Tonight we are collecting some cardboard to sleep on. Not only are we to be homeless, but must also sleep rough as well. Perhaps tonight the police will tell us to move on. The unaccountability is bottomless.