A drinking fountain campaign was one of Boris Johnson’s initiatives when he came to power in 2008, but since then, little progress has been made. Oxford Street attracts 200 million visitors annually, but has no fountain; there is currently only one per 100,000 Londoners, and some of those are turned off in winter to avoid frozen pipes. Victorian philanthropists provided fountains for people and cattle, but they are now largely abandoned and decommissioned – Londoners today need what 19th century cattle had. The costs are not huge: basic drinking fountains cost under £200, and even contamination and vandal-proof models are around £1,000. Without
clean water, you can develop kidney disease and dehydration, which can lead to lethargy, headaches, confusion, dizziness and fits. People whose alcohol consumption is already causing dehydration are doubly disadvantaged.
Many homeless people show the symptoms of malnutrition, whose long-term consequences include an increased risk of coronary heart disease and cancer, and worsening of diabetes, epilepsy and mental health conditions. Nearly three-quarters of homeless young people eat only two meals a day and a mere two per cent eat the recommended five portions of fruit and veg - in fact, over a third eat none at all. Day centres and hostels often provide food that is high in fat and salt, and many families in temporary accommodation, where cooking facilities are often inadequate, eat nutritionally poor food.
Over the last decade, the number of public lavatories almost halved. Life became more
difficult for homeless people, the elderly and disabled, visitors – even the police. The
“bladder leash” traps elderly people at home; Blue Badge Guides found that tourists drank
less to avoid having to finding loos; and police in a force outside London were told not to drink
so they wouldn’t have to keep returning to base. The lack of access to sanitation is a problem
for everyone, not just homeless people, but they suffer disproportionately. Women develop
cystitis because they can’t find loos even if they can find water; stomach upsets and periods
are humiliating; and crapping in the street, whatever your gender, leaves you liable to arrest.
There were 55,300 households in temporary accommodation in March 2013, including 4,500 in B&Bs. Temporary accommodation can mean a single room with no cooking facilities where you can’t even sterilise your baby’s bottle or where your children will be disproportionately affected
by mental health problems. The latest figures show that 6,437 people were seen rough sleeping in 2012-13, but there is no accurate figure for the number of people ‘sofa surfing’ with friends or squatting in non-residential properties, the so-called “hidden homeless”. Three-quarters of squatters have asked their local council for help but are not eligible. Homeless numbers are growing at the same time as available bed spaces are declining. Whatever form homelessness takes, it takes a heavy toll on mental and physical health of homeless people.
RT @housing_justice: Thousands of volunteers mobilised to tackle homelessness: Church and Community Night Shelter Impact Report 2013/14 htt…
Ash: “I just come to the Manna Centre, have a shower, clean myself, and sleep in the street.
One time I didn’t have a shower for about six or seven days because I didn’t know where to go. Some people in the market [..] gave me some clothes and I go to Liverpool Street station,
I change there and wet my old clothes with water and wash my body with wet clothes. The security guard didn’t say anything to me. I said: ‘Sorry
I have to wash like this.’ Then after I find some
day centres and I go every day and have a
shower there. But I remember when I washed myself in the toilet.”
Len: “Sometimes, when it was raining, I’d go into the A&E department at North Middlesex Hospital. I’d go to sleep thinking of my mum’s cooking and wake up absolutely hungry. I’ve gone days without food. It did become an obsession. [Without day centres] there would be anarchy on the streets – it really would be dog-eat-dog. You wouldn’t have to worry about foxes going into bins – it would be us.”
Lucilla: “[Day centres] are closed on Sunday and Saturday, so maybe poor people are not hungry Saturday and Sunday! Two days without food? Come Monday, you are finished completely.”
Amanda: “Many a time I’ve gone to ask for just a drink of water, but because of the way people judge people, they’ve said ‘No’. I’ve been clean for three years, but even today I still get ‘No’. Tap water out of toilets – you know that’s not safe. You have to pay for it, in a shop, at extortionate prices. I look at people carrying gallons of Evian water and I wonder how people can afford to pay for that.”
Khadra: “To get a referral [to a shelter], you have to be a priority. And if you don’t have kids or don’t have alcohol problems or a drugs problem, then they won’t listen to you. I try to find safe places like police station or whatever and they told me: ‘Don’t come here, we are not a hotel’. So you are back outside again.”
Herman: “When I became homeless,
I had 10 days without a shower. [Someone in the shelter] said: ‘OK, there’s places we go. Would you like to come with us?’ There were possibly 30 people queuing up for one single shower. By the time I did get showered, it could have been possibly 12.30 and half of the day gone.”
Following the launch event
and media campaign in
December, the UK Common Rights Campaign will be taken forward in a number of ways
– and this is where we need
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