"I Was Homeless On The Streets Of London. This Is What It Was Like"

By Londonist Last edited 57 months ago
"I Was Homeless On The Streets Of London. This Is What It Was Like"

Stephen is a St Mungo's client. He was helped by the charity's outreach teams while sleeping rough. Stephen now has a roof over his head, and resides in one of St Mungo's projects. Here, he describes what a day was like on the streets of London, while homeless.

Trafalgar Square can be lonely at night. Image: Shutterstock

It's 5pm in May. I'm sitting on the steps of The Connection At St Martin's in Trafalgar Square. I'm lucky enough to have been given some food, and I'm waiting for dark so that I can roll out my sleeping bag and go to sleep at the top of the steps.

In my mind I'm thinking about how I am going to get out of this situation. There are all kinds of folk walking to wherever they need to go, mostly home to relax from a day's work, I imagine.

As the hours pass I just want no-one to look at me, as I feel so embarrassed at what has become of me. I reflect on the really amazing life I have had until this point, though the last few years haven't been great.

Eventually it's dark and not too many people are about, so I unroll my sleeping bag making sure that my back is towards anyone looking.

Once in my sleeping bag I struggle to get comfortable on the stone floor as my hip bone is almost in direct contact with the ground. I cover my face so I can't see anyone and they can't see me. I'm just another homeless person in London.

Eventually, through exhaustion, I fall asleep.

"I am awoken by somebody screaming at the top of their voice"

Rain is a constant enemy of homeless people in London. Image: Shutterstock

I am awoken sometime later by a soft female voice (an American or Canadian accent). I look up and she has a very compassionate look on her face and says to me "Hello, are you hungry or can I buy you coffee?". I say thank you very much but no thanks. "Are you sure?". I nod and thank her again. My reason for saying no is because I feel ashamed of myself for being in this situation. The young woman then says goodbye.

I sleep again.

Sometime later I am awoken by somebody screaming at the top of their voice. "Help me, help me, help me." It is at this point I realise that it's raining heavily and I'm soaked right through my sleeping bag. The voice comes from an overweight man, about 25 years old. He has bare feet, a t-shirt and shorts. It is about eight degrees at a guess. I feel so sorry for him as he disappears towards Trafalgar Square but I am in no position to help him.

I see people eating and have great cravings for food, but not enough money to buy any. Ironically quite often the food I crave is very inexpensive.

"The wind is cold but also dries out my sleeping bag"  

Image: Shutterstock

I gather up my sleeping bag and belongings to find a more protected place to get through the night. I look across from the steps of The Connection at St Martin's and see the office worker's entrance to the building; an organisation that helps homeless people.

This entrance is barely covered but less exposed than where I am, so I gather up my baggage and sleeping bag and walk the short distance. There is a sign saying 'do not block this entrance' on the door, but I'm fairly sure that no one will be leaving or entering at this time of the night or morning.

I sit down on the stone entrance, spread out my wet sleeping bag and pull it over my head. The rain has stopped and there is a chilled wind blowing which is cold, but also dries out my sleeping bag.

"McDonald's is open but I have no money"

Image: Shutterstock

There is a urinal in this street which I need to use, and I am scared of leaving the few belongings I have, but I go and return and nothing has been touched.

Again I sit down, exhausted. I drink from a plastic bottle of water which I have refilled for a couple of weeks now. I am hungry, but even though McDonald's is open about five minutes' walk away I have no money. Again I pull the sleeping bag over my head and wait for morning. With a new day maybe things will change and I'll get a lucky break.

I doze in and out of sleep until the sound of people going to work wakes me.

"The saying goes 'nobody goes hungry in London'. It's true"

Image: Connection at St Martin's

It is about 7.30am and I go and stand in the queue to The Connection, waiting until 9am to enter. I listen to other people in the same predicament as me — everyone has a different story, with many from different countries in and outside of the UK and Europe. Eventually we enter the building, where I can get a shower, shave and free tea and toast.

There's a nurse to go to for any medical problems. We just give our name and wait our turn and see a professional medic who ascertains our health, and if necessary sends us to a doctor who deals with homeless people.

Because I haven't lived in the UK for 30 years I am not entitled to any form of monetary benefit, and have to live in the country for three months to prove what is known as a habitual resident, so no money.

I know there are many places to go where there is free food. The saying goes "nobody goes hungry in London", and it's true.

At 1pm we all are back on the street.

"Inside I know I'm going to get out of this situation, but how?"

The author, who no longer lives on the streets

I constantly see people talking to themselves. Initially I thought it was Bluetooth technology and sometimes it was, but I find it quite disturbing how many people are doing this.

I go to a place nearby and stand in a queue to be served food. It reminds me of photos of the great depression where folks did the same as this just to eat. The people who give out this food deserve to be recognised — without them I might starve.

I walk down to Trafalgar Square where there are street entertainers playing music or doing chalk drawings on the ground, many of them homeless people trying to earn some money.

I'm in a state of existence, I couldn't really call it alive, though in a country where there is no war and famine, I'm better off than some.

Inside I know I'm going to get out of this situation, but how?

I walk down to St James's Park and sit with my physical and emotional baggage, looking around at all the people enjoying their day. I don't sit in one place, I keep moving around because I feel out of place no matter where I sit.

Eventually I wander back to the steps at St Martin's and wait again for night to come so I can sleep. I'm cold and depressed, but not hungry.

Find out more about St Mungo's and Connection at St Martin's.

Last Updated 26 July 2019