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EDITIONS
 Wednesday, 11 December, 2002, 12:13 GMT
What happened to Hal?
Hal, who is homeless

Hal had been homeless for five years when we spoke to him last December. As the icy winds return, we track him down again and find it has been another year of sleeping rough.
Winter has truly arrived. The mercury has stalled at about freezing point in London and a sharp easterly wind makes it feel more like minus five.

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.

Homeless in UK
  • Numbers: 600 rough sleepers in UK on any one night (Sep 02)
  • Controversy: figures in Nov 01 showed government met target to reduce rough sleepers by two thirds - but charities say they were fiddled
  • Elderly: 834 over 50-year-olds slept rough in London between April 99 and March 00
  • New act: the Homelessness Act 2002 puts onus on councils to draw up strategies

  • It's a word we've come to recognise as covering a multitude of circumstances, such as living in a hostel or sleeping at a bed and breakfast. But Hal is homeless in the purest sense - he lives and sleeps on the streets.

    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.

    BBC News Online rag-out
    How we reported Hal's story in December 2001
    It sounds like a dreadful predicament, and one with no end in sight. But Hal sees no reason to be gloomy. He likes living on the streets and while he would jump at the chance of having his own place, he is not prepared to compromise on what he calls a "halfway house" such as a hostel.

    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."

    I'm tired of the big city now - I could do with some peace

    Hal
    Now, he is weighing up whether to spend Christmas in a shelter.

    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.

    Settling problems

    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.

    Hal in front of railings
    Hal 'travels' light with just a bag

    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."

    Homeless man in hostel
    Some can find hostels lonely and isolating
    Despite their stubbornness, they do need help. Homeless people die young from poor health and run the risk of being attacked on the streets.

    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.
    Claire McCullagh, London

    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.
    Cory, UK

    I would like information on volunteer work with charities this Christmas.
    Francis A, UK

    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.
    Jim Davies, UK

    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.
    Carl Meredith-Walsh, UK

    Hal needs to get off his backside and find a job like the rest of us. He is by his own choice, "homeless".
    Brian Stuart, US

    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.
    Rosemary, England

    Why are local goverments selling former office buildings to convert into high price apartment blocks, when just one could house all 600 rough sleepers.
    Joe Murphy, England

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    Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.


    This Christmas will be Stuart Cashmore's fourth as a Crisis volunteerGood will
    'I volunteer at a homeless shelter each Christmas'
    See also:

    08 Nov 02 | UK
    20 Aug 02 | UK
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