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Wednesday, 11 December, 2002, 12:13 GMT
What happened to Hal?
Hal has more reason than most of us to believe it's the worst time of year. He has nowhere warm to retreat to at the end of the day. He is homeless.
When he spoke to us last year, the government had just announced a dramatic drop in the number of rough sleepers in the UK. Since then, bar a short-term stay in a hostel, Hal's circumstances have stayed resolutely the same.
He has spent almost every one of the past 365 nights sleeping on the streets.
"I had hoped things would be better, that my circumstances would have changed and improved," he says thinking back over the past 12 months.
He doesn't tend to waste energy on wistful thoughts. His immediate concern is getting food and better clothing to guard against the cold.
Charities usually come round with second-hand garments, but Hal missed out on getting a scarf, his coat is too small to button up and he is without blankets to sleep under at night.
He still sleeps on Oxford Street, in a doorway at the Marble Arch end. His mattress is still a few cardboard boxes, he still relies on local sandwich shops for end-of-day handouts and still takes money from friendly locals, although he does not beg.
He tried it earlier this year, spending three weeks in a hostel in Victoria. But it didn't work out.
"They let me go. They asked me if I wanted to stay and I said no," he says. He won't be drawn on the exact circumstances.
"Down here I know people and they know my face. I've been here for such a long time so I feel comfortable and relaxed."
Hal is anything but needy. His fierce independence and distrust of help put him beyond the reach of most charities. But some organisations are starting to help people like him.
The priority on tackling homelessness in recent years has been to help young people sleeping rough. Now some charities are starting to wake up to a hardcore homeless, who tend to be older.
Older people, such as Hal, are more difficult to resettle, says Joe Oldman. Many have built up friendships on the streets, making it hard to switch to living alone.
Mr Oldman runs the UK Coalition on Older Homelessness, which was set up a year ago to tackle the problem and draws on the work of charities such as Help the Aged.
It's estimated that up to 1,000 elderly people are sleeping rough in London and hundreds more elsewhere in the UK.
Often they are less visible than the young homeless, says Petra Salva, an outreach manager for the charity Thames Reach Bondway.
Dealing with stubbornness
"They don't tend to beg. They keep themselves to themselves and like to be away from the crowds, so they won't sleep and sit in the busy streets," she says.
"There's a huge amount of suspicion among people over 50. It takes longer to plan and guide them through into a home."
Hal has experience of this. He says he now knows how to spot trouble and keeps his head down to avoid it. He would like to go back to Trinidad, from where he emigrated as a young man.
"I'm tired of the big city now," he says, reflecting on his years spent sleeping rough. "I could do with some peace. If someone came along and offered me a place of my own - all to myself - I could make the readjustment no problem.
"I would enjoy being able to relax; not worrying about having to look for food and where to crash for the evening."
Some of your comments:
Please tell Hal about Crisis this year. It is in 5 Mandela Way, London, SE1. I run the first aid/medical department and I promise Hal empathy and lots of support during the seven days.
If more homeless people put as much effort into getting a job as most put into begging and searching for a free handout the country wouldn't have this problem.
I would like information on volunteer work with charities this Christmas.
He can come to our house for Christmas dinner and I will pay for his transport. If he would rather stay I can give him some of my old clothes to keep him warm.
If the government wants a target for homelessness, it is ZERO. It is freezing outside, and I'm sure for the price of a few laser-guided missiles we could acheive this target. Get your priorities in order Mr Blair.
Hal needs to get off his backside and find a job like the rest of us. He is by his own choice, "homeless".
Cory and Brian, you expect homeless people such as Hal "to get off their backsides". Hal can't get a job until he has a fixed address. How can that be done without a job? Hal doesn't beg or claim any benefits. Charities such as Crisis aim to help the homeless as much as they can and frankly epitomise the true meaning of Christmas with their selflessness.
Why are local goverments selling former office buildings to convert into high price apartment blocks, when just one could house all 600 rough sleepers.
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'I volunteer at a homeless shelter each Christmas'
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