Snowfall reveals life on the streets: Esther Oxford tells how one charity has opened its doors to the people living in 'cardboard city'

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

SNOW makes the homeless visible, according to Michael Carter. 'Most times of the year, people pretend we are not here. When it is Christmas or when it snows, they suddenly start noticing us.'

When Mr Carter falls asleep at night he likes to watch the snow flakes drifting in through the tunnels of the underground car park. 'It is like looking through a kaleidoscope - I can see lots of different colours reflected off the snow flakes,' he said last night.

For the next two nights 30 homeless people in 'cardboard city', near Waterloo station in central London, will not have to sleep in sub-zero temperatures. Crisis, a charity for the homeless, is offering an evening meal, a light breakfast and a mattress with blankets in a hastily-constructed Emergency Cold Weather Shelter.

The thought, said Mr Carter, 44, is appreciated, but few will venture in. 'We drink around here. Crisis operates a no-drinking policy. I've been homeless for six years. I don't like living by other people's rules.'

The Falklands veteran prefers to fall asleep to the soft sound of snow. 'One night I fell asleep and the pavement was dry. When I woke up three days later I was in hospital. It started snowing that night and I slept right through it.

'Another time I woke up to find that flakes of snow had fallen through a crack in my jumper. Because I was lying on one side, the flakes collected round my rib cage and froze on my chest.'

It is the waking up that is brutal: 'You can't move. You think: 'I've got to sit in that for two hours, begging'. I say to the passers-by: 'You got a fifty pound note?' Usually they just laugh. But three times they have actually given me pounds 50. I spend it on candles, drink, dog- food and petrol for my heater.'

Every two or three nights Mr Carter is visited by his daughter. She is a police officer. 'I don't know what she thinks about me living down here. I've never asked her. My life is mine. Her life is hers.'