By Fiona Green

Painting by Derek Wain, a guest who attended art class at the American Church
Painting by Derek Wain, a guest who attended art class at the American Church

I love living in Fitzrovia, so when George, an ex squaddie parked his supermarket trolleys full of his possessions in my back yard, the serious plight of the homeless insisted on my attention. This is a growing problem and deep into this latest recession, there will be many more people facing homelessness in our cities.

I called London Street Rescue for advice, an organisation that help rough sleepers off the streets and into accommodation. Rescue Camden is a crime reduction initiative and this association with crime puts many people off helping the homeless. St Mungo’s, Shelter and Crisis, will give immediate help and The Simon Community have hostels in Camden. Some rough sleepers want to be free to stay out of the system, with occasional support, and this is where the soup kitchens are so helpful.

Rescue Camden suggested George may be known to the soup kitchen near me. The earliest laws against begging date from just after the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, followed by harsher laws following Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. The Georgian Vagrancy Act (1824) made it a criminal offence to sleep on the street and to beg. It targeted all people the authorities have disliked, and used the catch-all phrase “rogues and vagabonds” which enabled them to apprehend a group which included gypsies or “incorrigible rogues” (all persons “without visible means of subsistence”) Actors and buskers were also targeted at this time, so that even reciting Shakespeare publicly, could have you taken away! The ranks of the poor homeless were swollen by the veterans of the Napoleonic War, and those displaced by the Industrial Revolution.

Today many of the homeless are ex services, like George – or political refugees awaiting determination of their status with only a meagre subsidy to survive on.

The soup kitchen at the American Church is a place of warmth, friendliness and positivity. It was founded in 1986, and it costs £50,000 a year to run, with three part time staff, 70 volunteers, they serve around 55 “guests” daily.

This is a resource for the homeless, the marginally homeless, the impoverished and the lonely in London. It serves migrants, refugees, ex-offenders and ex servicemen. A cooked meal is provided five mornings a week, fresh clothing every fortnight. It’s a pleasant place to relax, to talk, be comforted, or referred on for specialist help and support.

They have recently set up a kitchen garden where they grow their own vegetables. Volunteers can be students (from home or abroad), churchgoers or folks that work in the area. Miranda, who manages the kitchen, came from working for an Aid Project which helped homeless children in Russia, following the break up of the former Soviet Union. She told me that the American Church soup kitchen has a wish list which the public can contribute towards which includes men’s casual clothing — used and new — food, in tins and packets, and money towards maintenance.

The soup kitchen is at 79A Tottenham Court Road. (Whitfield Street entrance) Telephone 020 7580 2791

One reply on “Hope for the homeless on our doorstep”

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