In early June, one of our homeless visitors, Michael Blight, invited members of Xchange to stay overnight at his Fleet Street residence. For the last four years, Michael has lived in an office doorway, sized about 3ft by 6 ft. We went simply to ‘watch this space’.
Since the beginning of May, Michael’s residence has been subjected to forced cleansing, usually between 2 and 3 am. The reason given by the Police who accompany the street-cleaners, is that Fleet Street is being cleaned. The Corporation of London has a goal to reduce the number of homeless people sleeping on the city streets to zero by the year 2012. (Probably not the only of the city’s goals that involves that number!) For those in desperate need, the charity appointed by the Corporation has enjoyed remarkable success. Equally, those who sleep rough illegally, may be arrested and justice served. But what of those who, like Michael, do not fit into the categories of desperation or criminality? There is no legal way to remove them from the streets. If they are to be removed, they must be intimidated, bullied or inconvenienced off the streets. But this would never happen in modern Britain.
However, Michael – who is hardly one to be intimidated or bullied – invited members of the church to see how this is happening under our noses. On the night of June 17th, eight members of Xchange slept rough with Michael. The police had been informed that we were doing so, which meant that we did not really expect the crude actions described by Michael to be manifest.
And then at 2.15am, a very polite policewoman woke us up in order to save us from being saturated by the street cleaners, who were cleaning Fleet Street. With a little reluctance, we consented. Then the cleaning began. Well, it was more a pointless watering. And for some reason, only the 30 feet of pavement where we were sleeping was watered. Apparently, it was ‘a bit smelly’, because unlike mere mortals, ‘homeless people urinate and defecate’! Having been asleep here, I think one of us might have noticed if such supernatural aromas blighted the air. But the Police exemplified both professionalism and sensitivity as they performed their duties, and we did as we were ordered. After the wetting was completed in peace, we were told to ‘go back to whatever you were doing’! The riot van clearly allocated for Xchange drove away.
We then relocated 20 feet east, and slept under an alley way – which I assume must have been free of the aforementioned aroma. Michael himself did get wet in the incident, and sat in the street opposite until the operation was complete.
Those involved regard this event primarily as an act of radical listening. Michael’s situation was heard by sharing in a small dose of the reality to which he and those like him are currently subject on a daily basis. Many of those less resilient that Michael have upped and moved to other places. Success, for the Corporation.
Anyone who would like to know what this single event achieved should talk to Michael. This was not a one-off exercise though. Bloomsbury have been engaged in ministry to homeless people for decades, and doubtless this will continue. At present, members of Xchange are deliberating over what action to take next. ‘Watch this space.’