Homeless see bleak future on the streets: One man's success in finding a place to live this Christmas serves only to highlight the plight of thousands of others without a home
Friday 31 December 1993
His is one of the few success stories to emerge in the past week from homeless people trying to find a place to live over Christmas and New Year. Thousands of others have not been so lucky.
Mr Scott, 46, an experienced butcher, found accommodation thanks to Crisis, the charity that cares for the homeless across London.
It closed its doors yesterday after providing a week of warmth, food, clothing, medical care and entertainment for more than 2,000 people.
The 2,000 volunteers who had kept three centres running since 23 December were able to look back on the comfort they gave to their guests, but there were frustrations, too. There was frustration that only 50 people could be found permanent homes, and there was disbelief that only about a dozen could be sent to detoxification centres to be dried out and given a chance to start afresh. 'I couldn't believe my luck,' Mr Scott said. 'I have beaten the booze but I didn't have anywhere to live so I couldn't get a job. I have been living on the streets for the past two years, in doorways, basically anywhere I could keep warm.' He had a good job as a butcher and had worked at London department stores before his wife, Jennifer, died of cancer.
'We had a flat in Kilburn (north London) but there were too many bad memories,' he said. 'I had been drinking and I left the place before I had anywhere else to go. We didn't have any children. If we had, then I wouldn't have let it all go. I was going from place to place and being turned away. Don't believe the Government when they say there are beds for everyone. It's not true.'
Mr Scott walked into the Crisis centre, a disused warehouse in Bermondsey, south London, last week and was re-clothed, fed, and given medical check-ups before seeing advice workers who tried to find him somewhere to live.
The vast majority find there is nothing for them, but Mr Scott was lucky; when workers checked on vacancies at Livingstone House hostel in Harlesden, north-west London, a vacancy had just come up. Peter Scott had a home.
'I have my own room, like a bedsit, and I can come and go as I please,' he said. 'Now I can get myself sorted out and get a job. The past two years have been an experience, but I wouldn't like to repeat it.'
For Jonathan Gammon, a barrister, and Stephen Wiseman, who used to be homeless, Mr Scott's joy makes their sacrifice of Christmas to work for Crisis worthwhile. But both said yesterday that the Government could do more.
'I have been working 16 hours a day trying to find accommodation for these people, and it simply isn't there,' said Mr Wiseman. 'The Government says there is a place for everyone but there is not. If they can tell me where I should have been trying, then I would be grateful.' Mr Gammon said: 'You can provide comfort for a week, but then to watch people walking back out on to the streets is very painful . . . the Government should be spending more money; certainly, there are not enough places for institutionalised people released into the community and for those who need detox help.' Frank McGrath said goodbye to the Crisis workers yesterday and began facing up to 1994 without a home. He has been on the streets for four years, since a friend accidentally burnt down his council flat in north London.
'They wouldn't rehouse me after that because they thought I'd done it. I hadn't, but I couldn't tell them that because I wasn't supposed to have guests,' he said.
'I don't know where I'll go. I'm over 50 but I don't worry about the cold too much. I find a warm doorway and I use a lot of cardboard. My wife died 18 years ago and my two sons and two daughters are in America and Canada; I haven't told them about my problems.
'I'm not claiming benefit at the moment. I live on whatever handouts I can get from day centres and things. I think I'd like a place to live, somewhere to call my own, but there's not much chance.
'1994? I don't know. To tell you the truth, I don't think the future holds much for me.'
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