Sleeping under Sainsburys

A perfect winter evening spent sitting on the sofa watching the fire flicker and listening to the rain hitting the window, there is something very relaxing about being inside on a stormy night. Rain streaked inky dark windows giving enough of a glimpse of the outside world to convince me to stay in the warm. When I do venture out I take the head down collar up approach and rocket between destinations. Even though I rush around I always thought I paid attention to the world around me but I’m not so sure I do, I looked properly at something that I see all the time and it has got me thinking.

Whilst whizzing about this week on my usual last-minute Christmas shopping trips I walked down Selborne Road, nothing new there as this is my usual route between home and tube. As I passed the back of Sainsburys I saw a couple of kids stood on the corner, they looked like they were having an argument and being the nosey type I took my headphones out so I could hear what they were shouting about. One boy was shouting at the other, encouraging him to do something, they laughed and shouted but ran off before they did whatever it was that they had planned. The target of their humour, if that’s the best word for it was a homeless man who sleeps under the car park ramp at Sainsburys. I shouted out a half-hearted “bloody kids, are you ok?” then stuck my headphones back in and headed home without waiting for a response. There has been a man living under Sainsburys for a while now and he has recently been joined by another, I walk past them twice every working day so at least forty times a month. I see them with their entire world wrapped under a plastic sheet and I get back to my nice warm house and never give them a second thought. When I’m sat watching TV and throwing wine down my neck complaining how rubbish work has been, I never think about the man sleeping on a damp dirty mattress in the cold night, has the fact that I see homelessness all the time blinded me to it?

When St Saviours Church on Markhouse road was built, its first priest set up a soup kitchen in the church grounds to help feed the homeless and needy of Walthamstow. I wonder if he thought the problem would be solved in the future? Would he be surprised that with all the advances since his soup kitchen opened we still had people sleeping on the streets. Back in his time many of the people he was dealing with were immigrants bought in to work on the reservoirs and poor families who moved to Walthamstow when their homes were cleared to make way for Liverpool Street Station. Now as then there are a number of reasons why people end up on the streets, many of us are just a couple of months of lost pay away from loosing our homes and not everybody has family or friends to fall back on. Whatever the reason that people are on the streets and whatever they are doing to get through the night, one fact remains true; they are still people and they could so easily be me or you.

Back in my warm house looking out of the window at the darkening sky, enjoying the excesses of Christmas, I can’t help but feel that I should do more than just buy the big issue. I don’t know what that will be yet, volunteering maybe, but I want to do something to help the people that I have always seen but never noticed.


  1. Interesting comment, in an interesting blog. If you see someone sleeping rough, you can call Street Rescue on 0870 383 3333, or email them at I’ve done this several times. However, there are quite a few people who, despite really careful and sensitive persuasion attempts by outreach workers, simply won’t engage. There’s a well-known character I’ve tried to get ‘connected’ for some time, and the last time I saw him, wrapped in a blanket and trying to sleep sitting up on the pavement on an icy night, I have to say I simply walked by. We’ve tried, and he’s doing what he wants to do. A lot of people have mental health problems, or a fear of everything that shelters represent. I’ve wondered recently if what’s needed for such folk is simply discrete isolated sheds that would have to be an improvement over the pavement. However, any change in what’s provided will change the situation in other ways – there are some drunks or druggies around that would rapidly identify and colonise such refuges – although you could argue that they have issues of their own. My heart breaks when I see the chap I’m referring to, but people with real experience of these problems have tried (repeatedly) and failed to engage him. One local pub (best not named in this public place) gives him shelter during opening hours (despite a pretty strong BO!) which really shows how much that pub deserves the community’s support, but after hours, he’s out in the cold. Every night.

    Local services do work. Someone I know found herself homeless recently, and I urged her to follow the process. She (and young daughter) were quickly found accommodation in a hostel, which turned out to be much better than she’d feared, and she’s now in a housing association flat, and surprised and happy to be there. But she took some persuading to allow the Council to help her. The people you see on the street around here are likely to be people that, for one reason or another, simply won’t be helped. Short of ‘sectioning’ them, I fear there’s not much that can be done. It’s heartbreaking, especially as another icy night settles in.

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