By Angela Lovely
Whitfield Gardens near Goodge Street tube station along Tottenham Court Road is frequently soiled by people using it as a toilet during the night and often during the day.
There is also a soup kitchen next to Whitfield Gardens which feeds more than 100 people each lunchtime. The soup kitchen is run by the Whitefield Corporation a registered charity and is attached to the American Church in London.
The church does not allow the guests of the soup kitchen to use their toilets and until recently only offered a place to eat underneath a tent in an otherwise open basement area.
Now the church is under pressure to let its guests use their toilets because if they are feeding people, we are told, then they should provide toilet facilities. The Camden New Journal ran a story in this week’s issue.
Locals blame homeless men and women attending daily outdoor soup runs organised by the American Church in Tottenham Court Road.
They want the church to throw open its doors to the homeless and those in need of the loo, but its pastor, the Rev John D’Elia, insists it is not possible to let soup run users into the building and has called on the council to provide toilets.
Normally I don’t have much sympathy with churches or those who practise a religion, but on this occasion I feel it is all too easy to blame the church for not offering a toilet.
If the reporter from the Camden New Journal had walked a few yards into Goodge Street he would have found a supermarket selling a variety of foodstuffs to consume off the premises. As far as I know the store does not offer its customers the opportunity to use its toilets after selling them sandwiches and soft drinks. I very much doubt if the shop across the road selling pasties lets its customers use their toilet either. But I’ve not heard anyone question this common practice.
Unlike the shops in Goodge Street the soup kitchen provides free food for its customers. No-one else is feeding these homeless people and no-one else is offering a toilet or anything else of comfort for those who through no fault of their own have fallen on very hard times. At least the church is doing some good where others have failed.
Tens of thousands of people travel into Fitzrovia each weekday and many of them arrive and leave via the underground stations and bus stops dotted along Tottenham Court Road. We have a 24-hour, 7-days-a-week transport system, yet there are no toilets at Goodge Street, Tottenham Court Road or Warren Street underground stations or near any of the bus stops serving one of the busiest streets in London. It’s not only the homeless who urinate and defecate in Whitfield Gardens, it’s a fair few of these other travellers.
A recent public realm study stated:
There are no public toilets in Fitzrovia, which will become an increasing problem if the night-time economy continues to expand and spread from its current focus around south Charlotte Street.
Why isn’t the Mayor of London being asked to provide toilet facilities at these Transport for London stations and stops? Many tube stations in central London have toilets and other parts of the city have public loos. Why not in Fitzrovia?
Let’s be clear about this: the soup kitchen is being criticised for feeding people. They are providing a service that is not being done by Camden Council, the Mayor of London, or central government. Now they are expected to provide a toilet facility as well. Shouldn’t these other organisations — with their vast sums of money — be contributing something and sharing the responsibility?
The residents and businesses who are affected by this sorry state of affairs are right to want something done about the soiling of our streets and open spaces. I don’t blame them for one moment. But they are hitting the wrong target.
This is what needs to be done. In the short-term, provide portable toilets for the guests of the soup kitchen and anyone else who needs them. Construction sites have them for their workers so we can follow their example. In the long-term, build and staff 24-hours-a-day a new toilet in the former air raid shelter (owned by TfL) in Tottenham Court Road.
And at the same time let’s help get these poor homeless people off the streets and help them to re-build their lives.
The money for these improvements needs to come from a combination of central government, Camden Council and Transport for London. If we can build a new railway line under central London, we can build a new toilet.