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Soup run stories

 
September 9th 2015
 

John has been on the streets for more than 20 years. © Eddie Ngugi for the Pavement

The Pavement launched in response to changes due to happen to London’s soup runs. So where are they now?

When the Pavement was launched 10 years ago, we apologised that so much of the issue was focused on Westminster and the Council’s move towards building based services. But we felt the bias was justified.

“We are concerned that the squeeze is being applied to rough sleepers in Westminster, which will only result in migrations into neighbouring boroughs, and the subsequent panic adoption of similar methods by other councils,” wrotethe Pavement’s founder Richard Burdett in the inaugural editor’s letter. Sound familiar?

A decade on, maybe little has changed. Many readers will be familiar with Westminster Council’s regular attempts to whitewash visible signs of homelessness in the borough, from attempts to ban soup runs, to physical barriers and legal strong-arming.

At the Soup Run Forum meeting in 2001, the council “put the case that an excess of soup run provision was actually counter-productive”. They tried to ban free food distribution in 2005 and again in 2007 and, most recently, attempted in 2011 to pass a byelaw banning soup kitchens and rough sleeping around Westminster Cathedral.

Soup runs are still here at any rate. The Simon Community provides early morning tea runs, soup runs on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, and weekend street cafés. There’s also ASLAN’s Saturday tea run, Notre Dame Church’s Saturday sandwich handout (indoors), and the various soup runs held at Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

We popped down to the Simon Community’s soup run at St Giles-in-the-Fields (just a street outside Westminster’s remit) to find out.

So what’s the situation like today, 10 years on? Here’s what people told us.

Mick

“How are things different with soup kitchens in Westminster compared to 10 years ago? I don’t think it’s changed on that score. In the build-up to the Olympics, they wanted to move homeless people out of Central London. But it didn’t work. The only difference now is the soup runs are much more organised than they used to be – they clean up before they leave etc. There are more people [using soup runs] though. At Lincoln’s Inn Fields, you used to see around 100 people, now it’s more like 200–300. And there are more people with mental health issues now.”

John

“I’ve been on the streets since 1991. Westminster? I fucking avoid it if I can. I sleep rough in the City of London. You open a can of beer in Westminster and the police will take it off you; in the City, they don’t bother you . I go to places where I feel comfortable. The place I use now is The Passage, as I meet my outreach worker there and it’s reliable – you can sit in, have a shower and watch TV. And Simon Community does a tea run around 7am, Monday to Thursday. It’s good to have a hot drink and something to eat first thing . What would I do if the soup runs weren’t here? I’d have to go shoplifting. I’ve done it before. I’m looking for a job. I’m a trained mechanical engineer .You used to be able to go to the job centre and get casual work, now you need a reference to wash dishes!”

Stuart

"I’ve been shit on more times than you’ve had hot dinners. I’m 49 years old. I enjoy cooking, would rather have my own place, but I think this [soup run] is absolutely great... What you’ve got to make absolutely clear in is homeless [people] now are predominantly Eastern European."

‘Chelsea’ – Simon Community volunteer

“Here [at St Giles] we’re in Camden and the reason they can’t touch us is we’re in church grounds. We used to do about seven stops on the tea run in Westminster – one of them was at the old Army and Navy in Victoria, but that was totally banned. No one’s allowed to hand out food. We still need these services as some people will not go indoors. But they should be improved.”

‘Metal’ – Simon Community volunteer

“I’ve been doing this for the last six years. I was on the streets for eight and a half years, and the Simon Community helped me then, so it’s kind of a way of giving back.

There are less handouts now than when I was homeless. I enjoyed it. There was always somewhere to – pardon my language – shit, shower and shave.

I used to sleep by the Royal Opera House and people would kick your box, pour rubbish on you, try to start fights. You’ve got to take the rough with the smooth when you’re homeless."

Georgie

"I’m from Georgia but before I came to London, I lived in Ireland for six years. I had a job picking items for Amazon then in Nando’s, but I lost my job and became homeless.

I’m renting a flat now and receiving JSA, but £146 for two weeks is not enough for transport and everything else. I don’t have enough money to eat. That’s why I’m attending this nice service. I want a job, a full-time job. I feel like I’m going round and round in circles, always starting again."

For soup runs in your area, see the List and select your area.
 

Over the years we’ve been contacted my many readers about being moved on. Here are your rights.

If the police have reasonable grounds to believe that anti-social behaviour is a problem in a particular area, then they can designate that area as a ‘dispersal area’.

If you are in a group of two or more people in a dispersal area, then a police officer in uniform can tell you and the other people in the group to go home if you live in the area, or to leave the area and not to return for 24 hours if you do not live in the area.

The police can only do this if they have good reason to think that your group is likely to harm or frighten people, or if your group is doing something which counts as antisocial behaviour.

There is also a law called the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006. If the police use this law, they can tell you, even if you are on your own and not part of a group, to leave the area and not return for 48 hours.

They have to give you the order in writing, and they can’t make you leave an area if:

•  you live or work there

•  are getting medical treatment there

•  are studying or training there

•  you have to go there as part of a court order.

 
 
 

Sep/Oct 2015

 

Contents

Birthday wishes!

Soup run stories

Need to know: 10 years on

Looking at the horizon

Livin’ it up in the Barras

Girl; looking for home

Bin deaths concerns

Stop and search targeted

Tent protestors face jail

Welfare reforms investigated

Right to buy ‘needs re-think’

See Me? I’m a prisoner

Smoking is a middle age issue

More families forced from city

Anti-begging poster outrage

Sex workers ‘need protection’

Fast food snub

Opinion: the Pavement has an important message

 

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