Homeless in a pandemic

by Olivier Guiberteau

Homelessness was already an enormous issue before the pandemic and it’s almost certain that the situation will be further exacerbated by Covid-19. It is a problem with no quick or easy solutions and one that is likely to remain well after the current crisis. When we think about housing we usually think about walls and roof – a permanent structure that you can call home. For many, however, that’s simply not the case.

During this pandemic, we have focused, perhaps more than ever, on our living situations and how we’ve spent the many months in lockdown. For this project, I wanted to photograph and speak to those who don’t have the luxury of permanent housing about their current situation but also how 2020 has affected them.   

From left to right

I have been in this country for two years now, but I am originally from Bulgaria. I’m staying in a temporary hostel in Wood Green. It is ok – £70 for 70 nights. But I want to return to my country. 

“My name is Lee, sorry my English is very bad. I am from Bulgaria. Now I stay in a hostel in Wood Green. It’s OK, not bad. But I need money to go back to Bulgaria.

“My name is Margaret and I’m 54 years old. I was born in Birmingham but we moved here after I was born – I suffer from mental health issues. Right now I’m living in a shared temporary accommodation in Leytonstone. The people are nice and friendly there and there’s an area we can cook. I’ve been waiting for a flat for a while now. It’s been about 5 or 6 years – I don’t know how long it will take.”

“I’m David, originally from Scotland and I’ll be 52 next week. The council has been good to me, they found me a small room after I was kicked out of my last place. The only problem is it’s on the first floor which isn’t ideal because I’m on crutches – I suffer from a degenerative disease. I was kicked out of my last flat because they said I was running a drug and prostitution racket – which wasn’t true. During the first lockdown I was sleeping in the doorway of the Rose and Crown. It wasn’t too bad – the weather was OK, and I could brush my teeth in the little drain nearby. 

“Don’t show my face, I don’t want my kids to recognise me. I used to have it all, wife, two kids, a mortgage and my own business. One day I came home to find my wife cheating on me. I lost it and went to prison for a bit. When I got out I started drinking heavily, but I’ve quit now. In the first lockdown they tried to put me in a B & B in South London, but it was horrible. The place was filled with cockroaches, I preferred to be out here. Sometimes I stay at one of the illegal hostels around here. It’s £16 a night, the police know about them but they just let it go. But the last time I did that was a week ago and it won’t be again tonight. Most nights I just sit out here until morning. 

“My name is Michael, I’m originally from Slovakia but I have been here for 10 years. During the first lockdown I was staying at a friend’s flat. It was a fully furnished place, which was great. I was there for 3 months, but then I had to leave. I’ve been in contact with the local council, but I don’t get any responses now – nothing. I’m living in a shed outside at the moment. It’s been like that on and off for the last 6 years.

I’m Frank and I’m in my 60s now. I used to be in the army but then spent time in a psychiatric hospital. At the moment I’m living in a tent up near the waterworks. Nothing changed for me during the pandemic. The council wanted to put people in temporary housing but I knew they would just kick everybody out eventually – which they did. I didn’t want to get used to somewhere warm without damp and then have to go back to it after.

“I’m Gavin. I had to have a serious operation a while ago and I was in hospital for 7 months. When I got out I went to the local council but nothing ever came of it. I live in a graveyard nearby, I’ve been there about two years. It’s quiet and people leave you alone there. The problem with the housing situation is there’s no aftercare – there’s no support system. People like me are starting from the bottom and I’ve still got debts from surgery. Even if I got a place how would I pay for it? I know we’re not entitled to anything, but we need a hand.

Follow Olivier on Instagram and view more of his work on his website

For more info on how to help homeless people in London, head here.

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