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EDITIONS
Monday, 3 December, 2001, 13:22 GMT
Life on the streets goes on
Hal standing in doorway
Hal: Five years on the street and no end in sight
As figures reveal the number of rough sleepers in Britain can now be counted in the hundreds rather than the thousands, one victim of homelessness tells why he is reluctant to come off the streets.

According to the statistics, Hal is increasingly a rarity on Britain's streets. He is a rough sleeper.

In the government's drive to crackdown on homelessness, the number of those sleeping on the streets at night has been cut by two thirds. In 1998 there were 1,850 people sleeping rough around the country - this winter the figure is expected to be about 530. Hal will be one of those.


[Landlords] don't want to know because you don't have any money

Hal
Through conventional eyes, he is one of the more unlucky ones. But Hal takes issue with that assessment. When it comes to finding a home, his approach is "all or nothing".

"I've had offers... but if I don't feel the offer is coming from the right source I don't accept it."

But it would be wrong to think he didn't want more stability and security. "Yes, I do want a home. I want to have my own flat again. My own private space."

Many of those who have come off the streets in recent years, now exist in the twilight world of temporary accommodation. Sometimes they are still classified as "homeless"; sometimes "vulnerably housed".

Hal
Hal intends to spend Christmas on the streets
Hal has been in this uncertain situation before and doesn't intend going back. At least life on the streets is consistent. That's something he has come to appreciate over the past five years, since he was thrown out of his first-floor flat in Willesden, west London.

He had been homeless before Willesden, and securing the flat had been a long and unsettling process. He had gone from a homeless hostel to spending two years in a half-way house, waiting his turn for permanent accommodation.

Search in vain

He liked the flat - "it was my own little self-contained unit - a bedroom, sitting room, bathroom, hallway," - and the stability of a permanent home. But after seven years, the last sitting-tenant in the house died and the landlord decided to sell up.

Hal looked for somewhere else, but landlords were put off by the fact he was out of work.

"They don't want to know because you don't have any money or not enough to please them anyway," he says.

So he took to sleeping rough and that's been his life for the past five years.

Despite the freezing temperatures he has to endure in winter, not knowing where his next meal is coming from and the constant threat of violence against those on the streets, Hal does not complain.

An outdoor life

He used to pass the day at drop-in centres and spent the odd night in hostels, but he found it made it more difficult to re-adjust to life on the pavement. Besides, "you get some very disagreeable people in the hostels and you can only stay for a couple of nights anyway," he says.

Now his life is totally outdoors.


Toothache is the main thing, then I just have to kill the pain with a bit of alcohol

He sleeps on a mattress of cardboard boxes and blankets handed out by charity workers, usually in a shop doorway at the Marble Arch-end of Oxford Street.

It's noisy and there's no privacy but sleeping on side roads would be "foolish".

"Anyone could do anything to you. At least here it's in public view."

He has been attacked before, beaten up and threatened with broken bottles. But less so now, says Hal, since he knows how to stay out of trouble.

He doesn't beg, but gets handed money anyway and some of the local cafés and shops hand out what food they have left at the end of the day.

Harsh realities

His days are spent wandering. "I walk all over the place. Sometimes it's interesting, sometimes not so. But you've got to keep moving around when it's cold."

Born in Trinidad, Hal came to Britain "many years ago" and worked in various warehouse jobs. He has no family, he says, although he does have friends on the streets.

Does he wish he had stayed in the Caribbean? No. Despite the harsh realities of his life today, Hal has not been aggressively hardened.

He speaks softly and is distinctly philosophical about his lot, despite his "sleeping quarters" being a stone's throw from some of London's plushest hotels and restaurants on Park Lane.

Hal says he is "53... no 56, or something like that," and, given his background, he looks well for his age. It's all thanks, he adds, to his "robust constitution".

"I don't get ill very much. Toothache is the main thing, then I just have to kill the pain with a bit of alcohol."


Talking PointTALKING POINT
Is homelessness still a problem? Give us your viewsStreet life
Is homelessness still a problem?
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03 Dec 01 | England
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