Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Under one roof

November 01 2019

Life in a hostel with the Singer, the Racist and the Spy, by Chris Sampson

I met some, erm, characters after almost four years living in a South London hostel. There was the tenant who decided to rip her radiator off the walls one night, flooding the flats below and leaving many of us without heating for three days.

“Of course,” replied a 75-year-old tenant as if it was the most natural thing in the world when I asked if I’d heard right about him smoking crack. Silly me. The stink of crack, by the way, is horrendous; a sort of burning plastic stench. Lord knows what enjoyment anyone gets from it.

Then there was Mr Pants, so-called due to his habit of staggering to the front desk in only his Y-fronts. This was funny until he was seen on CCTV writhing naked in a corridor. There were a lot of kids at the hostel, so bye-bye Mr Pants....

Anyhoo, the main three characters at the hostel were the Singer, the Racist and the Spy.

The Singer’s nickname was somewhat ironic, given his penchant for tuneless caterwauling at all hours of the night, to the accompaniment of slamming fire doors, as he wandered round the corridors, high on heroin. Only he thought his singin’ was great. Sadly, he died in hospital, aged only around 30.

Supposedly, there was a zerotolerance policy toward racism at the hostel, so why didn’t the staff report The Racist’s vile outbursts? “The council never do anything,” they replied. And so The Racist subjected BAME staff and tenants to several more vile rants before he was finally arrested and relocated. A disgrace.

Another tenant, while being arrested after fighting with a woman (another class act, eh?), asked police “Don’t you know who I am?” and assured them they’d be “sorry”, as he was, “a spy for the Americans”. I’d always presumed that the CIA would almost certainly insist that new recruits observe a Fight Club-style decree: “Don’t tell anyone you’re a spy”, but apparently not...

The council allocated rooms without rhyme or reason; people with mobility issues were billeted on upper floors, while ground floor flats stood empty. There were innocents on the premises; women with babies and toddlers, awaiting permanent housing. There were chaotic characters, but also a spirit of generosity. People shared what little they had, be it cash, food or humour.

And despite all the problems in the hostel, there was always the knowledge of how lucky we were knowing that the so-called street homeless would love to be under our roof.