Homeless refuse to clear off the streets for Blair

Beggars say zero tolerance regime pushes problem to another area
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The Independent Online
Standing in freezing temperatures at King's Cross, in north London yesterday, the homeless sent Tony Blair a clear and disapproving message: "You will never stop us begging."

The area, notorious for drug- pushing and prostitution, has been targeted by police in recent weeks in an American-style crackdown on vagrants. Although the operation is upheld as a success by local residents, beggars were angered by comments made by the Labour leader in the Big Issue, a magazine sold by the homeless, that they should be removed from the streets.

The policy known as zero tolerance, in which people arrested for petty crimes like graffiti, is strongly supported by Mr Blair. "The man obviously does not know how hard it is to survive out there," said Shaun. "Blair should be hung up for what he said. He has had an easy life - never going hungry or having to beg for enough money to get a scrap of food.

The 43-year-old, who has lived rough for 12 years, said it would be almost impossible to find a place for all the people living on the streets. Melvin Whatton, 55, and Jimmi Simms, 20, agreed that putting the homeless out of sight and mind could have dangerous repercussions. "If we could find another way we would, but it is the only way we know how to survive. I do not think Blair would manage on the streets for more than a day," said Mr Whatton.

Mr Simms believed the threat of arrest under the scheme just pushed the more desperate people into other areas.

But Harvey Bass, chairman of the King's Cross residents' action group, said the police initiative targeted only those who committed aggravated begging, and therefore did not effect genuine homeless people. "The streets are slightly safer now that a certain anti-social element has been removed."

Mr Bass said that much of the blame rested with the Tory government, which has done nothing to solve the homeless crisis.

Alex Hall, who sells the Big Issue at King's Cross, is not confident that Mr Blair has the right answer either.

"The country has got itself into a state moneywise, and I cannot see where Blair will get the cash from to get all the homeless people off the streets."