As day turns into night and the stars grace our skies, commuters travel on the Docklands Light Railways from Canary Wharf to Cutty Sark where they alight to rejoin their loved ones, families and friends, and where I join the busy crowds as I make my way to ballet. On my way I notice the commuters walk past these rough sleepers and turn a blind eye to them, like their existence is non-existent.
For rough sleepers day and night can become a blur as they count down for the days to become warmer, in their desperation for food, something to drink and a warm bed to lay their heads comfortably at night – without the fear of danger lingering over their heads during every passing moment as they lay or sit in the cold, without hope staring up at the balls of fire in the nighttime sky as a tear rolls down their aged and crooked cheeks.
Within the last year, outreach workers have reported that 8000 people on the streets (16 per cent up on the previous), with up to 80 per cent of rough sleepers having mental health problems. But mental health is not the only reason they got here: some are on the streets because of their addiction to drugs and alcohol, some rough sleepers are war heroes who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder – or it can come down to simply not having a job.
Students are another group of people who are at risk at finding themselves in this situation. Rent and fees alone are enough to make you moneyless, and you can find yourself struggling to survive week after week. In such circumstances it’s easier than you think to not make the rent, and after a couple of months you’ll be out on the streets like the others you are roughing it.
Perhaps I am especially aware of this because, whereas some students are lucky enough to have their parents pay their way, I do not have a family to lean on for financial help or guidance, having grown up in foster care from the age of 10.
Sometimes I have felt ashamed that I too was homeless for a time. I could not bare to tell anybody of my situation. I feel like some things, people just do not need to know as it is very personal and I do not want people to think ill of me, or project stereotypes of homelessness on to me. It is possible for anyone to find themselves in a situation like this: I never thought it could happen to me until it happened.
When making my journey back to the Cutty Sark DLR from ballet class, I got used to seeing the same rough sleeper on the street outside of supermarket overlooking the Cutty Sark itself, and then one night he was gone. I wonder what happened to him; I just hope someone has helped him.