The city of London has changed immeasurably during the Covid-19 crisis, with the future more uncertain than ever.
We have all been quarantining in our neighbourhoods for many weeks now. The more residential areas also feel very strange. I miss the city-life desperately. The thought of walking up to a bar in a tiny old pub and buying a round of drinks, carrying them high above the crowds of people, and wasting the weekend people-watching on some busy pavement almost drives me insane.
I do know it’s a luxury to be bored, and I remind it to myself every day.
The Lockdown is necessary, and also, it hurts.
With restriction slowly starting to be lifted on Monday the 15 June, a new chapter begins.
I thought maybe the experience of empty central London would be a little magical, and for moments here and there, it is. But mostly I’m feeling tense.
As peaceful as it is, seeing Soho empty on a Saturday has set my brain on high alert: something is very, very wrong.
Zone 1 of London is a large building site at the moment. It had been like this at least since before the Olympics in 2012. You get used to it, and when it’s so busy everywhere, you don’t notice it so much.
Many are the things you don’t notice when everyone is rushing around, and shops, restaurants and cafes are packed with people.
You don’t notice how precarious is many people’s life.
According to the New York Times “Coronavirus Nearly Ended Street Homelessness in the UK.”
Stating: “As part of Britain’s effort to contain the spread of the virus, the government required local councils in England and Wales to provide emergency accommodation in budget hotels to every homeless person living on the streets.”
But this is not the all story.
After listening to some people talking, I started putting things I saw around together.
a young guy with a dog and a couple of big shopping bags seating on a bench like if he was waiting for someone. Then I realised the supermarkets had already closed. A few hours later, and before it got dark, he was still there. This time he had a plastic bag laid open next to him with some kitchen utensils on it, and he was sharing the sandwich had probably made with his dog. No one else was around.
The time for me to walk my dog two roads up and come back, he had cleared the bench of any signs someone had just eaten there and left.
He didn’t look like someone homeless. That is why I didn’t stop for a chat. So I don’t know if he was. But I regret not asking if he was ok.
I didn’t sleep much and at 4 am, after I had woken up already three times, I went out.
This is what I saw.
These were those that street cleaners had not yet made to move.
Trafalgar Square is usually bustling with visitors. Now the homeless queue up there, every day, to get food.
Many are people newly homeless. They are Europeans who worked in hospitality or used to clean offices.
Charities and independent restaurants have stepped in to fill the gap left after the city’s day centres for the homeless shut during Lockdown.
One of them told me: “This is the worst time to become homeless because there’s nothing around.”
Many recently-redundant Europeans who live in London are now finding themselves in no man’s land, with no access to repatriation flights, little savings and jobs and no recourse for public funds as haven’t been in the UK for five years.
Our morning coffee, our workplace cleaned, new constructions and all the things we rely on… They are the people doing them. And they’ve been let down.
Early in the morning they repack and go as others clean where they slept.
In the last video you can hear a guy clearly in distress. London must rise to the challenges. Turning the other way will cause irreparable damages.
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