Homeless London

Time Out spends the night on the streets with a London soup kitchen

  • Homeless London

    Gregory, who has arrived here from Poland, at the soup kitchen on Maltravers Street

  • It it now estimated that a third of all homeless people in London have come from eastern Europe. There are fears that without proper support for them, the city will soon be facing a homeless disaster. So are we on the brink of a crisis? We joined a soup kitchen organised by the Simon Community charity to find out.

    August 9, 7.30pm, Kentish Town

    ‘That’s 300 sandwiches, one vat of coffee, one vat of tea and a vat of soup,’ says Marie as she piles three enormous vats, crates of sandwiches and piles of socks, into the back of a white van. The Simon Community operates two soup runs a week from their residential centre on Malden Road and since 3pm, volunteers have been preparing a mountain of cheese, jam, egg, tuna and peanut butter sandwiches.

    Chatty and amiable, Marie, who’s in her sixties, has helped organise the run for 18 years and tonight she’s the driver. She hops behind the wheel and the rest of us get in. There’s the irrepressible Jay, 35, homeless for five years before moving into one of Simon’s residential houses last year; there’s Adrian, another Simon resident; Marika, a Dutch volunteer and Johannes, 19, who is here doing voluntary work instead of German military service. ‘Put yer foot down girl,’ Jay calls over to Marie, as we head off – beginning a stream of banter that runs all night.

    That'll be 300 sardines and 600 teas please

    7.45pm, St Pancras church, Euston

    There’s not a soul in sight. Jay says the police are increasingly moving people on, and councils often hose down areas with disinfectant which makes it harder for the homeless to bed down. We turn down the quiet back streets, scanning the streets for rough sleepers. If they spot someone, they’ll offer food and a friendly chat – if it’s wanted. The soup runs are also a way of monitoring the more vulnerable rough sleepers, and Simon conducts head counts twice a year. The last showed 375 people on the streets in Central London, with 110 in hostels. ‘Some people don’t want help,’ says Jay. ‘When I was sleeping rough, I didn’t want to be in a hostel full of junkies who nick your stuff.’

    8pm, Hinde St church, Marylebone

    Soon we’re whizzing past Marylebone High Street’s chi chi homeware stores.

    The van takes a left turn and in an instant we enter a different world. About 15 men are sitting smoking or chatting on the steps of Hinde Street Church. We stop and a queue for sandwiches begins to form at the back of the van.

    Jo, 57, wolfs down his cheese sandwiches in the blink of an eye. ‘Why am I here? I had a bad relationship break-up,’ he says between bites. On the steps of the church Jon looks up, but doesn’t come down. ‘Alright Jon,’ says Marie brightly, adding, ‘He’s a a lovely guy. He’s been glue sniffing on the streets for about 17 years. When you’ve been on the streets that long it would kill you if you tried to live inside.’ ‘Got any crisps?’ asks another younger guy. ‘No – but we’ve got socks,’ says Jay, pulling a pile from the van. ‘Socks are very popular – imagine what state your socks get in walking around all day.’

    ‘There’s a lot of people who have fallen on bad luck,‘ he continues as the van pulls off. ‘Like myself – things went wrong after a relationship break-up. But I’m getting my life together now.’ Jay has recently put down the rental deposit on a flat of his own.

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