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A wake-up call from Broadway and the Corporation of London

May 21 2009
Sleepless in the City Sleepless in the City
Rough sleepers in the City of London allege a campaign of sleep deprivation and harassment Rough sleepers in the City of London have been targeted during May, in a campaign of sleep deprivation and harassment, according to six readers in the Square Mile, but they're not blaming the police. Instead, the finger of blame is being pointed at the Corporation of London and the charity Broadway. Since 5th May, rough sleepers in the City have been woken by police from Snow Hill station and told they have to move or get their possessions wet. A Corporation of London water bowser follows up and sprays down the small area where they were sleeping, even when the street had already been sprayed late in the previous evening. It is thought it is part of a move to make these men move out of the area or accept the next hostel offered them. Conversation our readers have had with the police and Corporation workers suggest this campaign will last one month, but all are adamant they will not be moved out of the area by these tactics. After one reader contact us, six met with The Pavement, though we believe more wanted to speak about their experiences but couldn't make the venue to talk. Michael said that the wetting of his site in the City had started on Monday 5th May when a police constable woke him. He said he had been "advised that they were coming to clear out my doorway with water, and if I didn't move my personal affects they'd probably get wet." Since then it has happened on many mornings, usually between 1.30am and 2am, and at all times it is just his area that has been wetted. Steve, sleeping near Fleet Street, had a similar experience of been woken. "It's happening every night, between two and four o'clock," he said, adding: "I don't blame the police; it's the Corporation and Broadway who've targeted hotspots in the City. Most of the police have been pretty good." Again, once moved out of his bedding area, Steve says they "soaked the whole area, with a 10-gallon bucket or a hose", sometimes using disinfectant. Both these men had also been told by workers in nearby food chains that they had been told to destroy food by opening sandwich packets, and even pouring bleach on it, to prevent rough sleepers using it. Steve believes this was a campaign of "sleep deprivation and starvation" to get them out of the area. Bob has only been back on the streets for nine months. He told us the "hassle started last week or 10 days ago [at the beginning of May]," and that he had been moved in the early hours and had his area wetted. He stressed that it wasn't a cleaning operation: on Monday 12th May, his street had been cleaned around 11pm, but he was then woken at 1.25am and just the small square area where he was sleeping was wetted. Glyn had a similar story. "It's the pettiness of it that gets me," he said. But he also wanted to make clear he didn't blame the police: "They're just doing their job," echoing the views of all we interviewed. Alan has been woken on several nights between 2.30 and 3am, and had his bedding-down site sprayed with water. He said: "Police are involved, but they're not the problem. It's the Corporation and Broadway." He confirmed that they just poured water "exactly where we sleep." Angry at this action, but reasonable in his response, he couldn't understand why these measures were being taken. "I'm doing nothing illegal, I'm doing nothing immoral," he said. Along with several of those interviewed, he had been given Broadway's number, but after his experience asked: "Are we likely to call Broadway?" Dan has been on the street eight to 10 years, and is now sleeping in the City. He, too, had been woken at night, and was sure it was not the police who had instigated the waking and wetting down. "They're happy with us: we're clean, and don't cause any problems," he said, insistent that he "leaves skippers clean." Dan had his site sprayed down before, during the last winter, and also at varying times. Then the people carrying out the watering had said: "We're sorry." But this time it came "out of the blue - they move us on and hose down", and was happening between two and four in the morning. The police and street cleaners involved told him it would last one month. Dan showed us Form 386, a 'stop and search'- all of those interviewed had handfuls of them - which stated that as part of a 'welfare' check, he'd been given the number of Broadway, although it didn't give the number and Dan is sure he wasn't given it at the time. No outreach workers were present during these actions. In a joint statement issued by the Corporation of London, a spokeswoman told The Pavement: "The continuing approach for dealing with Rough Sleepers has been formulated by all partner agencies dealing with this issue (City of London Corporation, Police, Safer City Partnerships, Broadway). The City of London Corporation has been tasked to clean areas, outside of busy working hours. The police also have a responsibility to check on the welfare of rough sleepers, which we are doing as well as providing support and advice on how to access specialist services. Broadway, as part of the multi-agency team, are currently working with us to provide support and advice to rough sleepers." And when we asked who specifically had formulated this course of actions, we were told: "There is no policy to move people on. Areas of the City are being cleaned and the cleaning cannot be completed where someone is sleeping in the area. Therefore it is practice to wake anyone who is sleeping rough and inform them of the cleaning, giving them sufficient time to allow them to move their belongings." We asked what they thought would be offered to those who continue to refuse a hostel place or - for the East Europeans in the area - a ticket home, and were told: "At the current time our short term policy is to provide rough sleepers with support and advice on accessing specialist services. The longer term issues are for the Strategic Rough Sleeper Group to decide on. The City of London Police is currently seeking advice from CPS [the Crown Prosecution Service] on using a whole range of powers. Whatever long term approach is agreed, it will be a multi-agency approach involving all partners." On the matter of destruction of food left by outlets in the City, the spokeswoman said: "You may be aware that changes in Health and Safety legislation has meant that food retailers must dispose of leftover food, which in the past has been given to a variety of charities. We have advised shops to ensure that any food that is discarded in their rubbish is opened, for their own protection as well as to deter people going through rubbish to find a food source." We also talked directly to Howard Sinclair, chief executive of Broadway, who said he had nothing to add to a joint statement. It's clear that the Corporation of London and Broadway believe that these disruptive tactics are the best way to offer any support to readers on the streets of the City, if they've not already accepted a move towards a hostel. What isn't clear is whether this action was begun on the suggestion of the Corporation or of Broadway. If it was the Corporation, then it looks like Broadway are responding to directives from the people who hold the purse strings (Broadway won the outreach contract in the City from St Mungo's in March this year), regardless of the individual efforts they had made with each rough sleeper on their patch. And if it was Broadway, then perhaps they've written a policy that few homeless organisations have, on what to do when someone refuses to leave the street. Whereas many would offer an open door and a welcome, they appear to prefer a campaign of "sleep deprivation." In the end, no one will say what the next step is, and if those whom we've spoken to refuse to go inside, then does the Corporation intend to increase the harassment or try a more humane approach?