‘You aren’t allowed to sleep anywhere’: Plight of homeless pair served eviction notice on Mare Street tent
- Credit: Archant
A couple living in a tent in Mare Street have just days to move – but say they have nowhere to go.
Raja Hamid, 38, has been homeless since November 7 when he was evicted from the Shuttleworth Hostel in Well Street, and is now living in the tent with his partner of 17 years Aisha Khalom, 47.
The hostel said it evicted Raja following complaints about anti-social behaviour.
He says he has no documents as all his belongings – including bedding, clothes, and his ID – were thrown away during the cold snap in March while he sought refuge from the snow in a church.
The Streetlink charity has referred Raja to Tower Hamlets Council’s outreach team as the authority that originally housed him. He has been placed on the housing waiting list and must wait to be allocated another hostel place.
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In the meantime he is thankful for the spot in Mare Street, but is concerned since being served papers on Wednesday last week giving them two weeks to vacate.
“Where I am now, I’m OK,” said Raja. “It’s not the best. When it rains, the rain goes through my bedding and it gets wet, but I know where I am and I know the community around me. I’m not going to starve to death.
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“I’ve been through that, and it’s hard to explain the stress and the mental torture.
“Before, I was sleeping in stairwells, and I was being moved two or three times in the night by the police because people would report I was sleeping in their building.
“They give you a 48-hour dispersal notice, and if you are caught within that time they give you an ASBO from the council.
“You can’t sleep in parks, doorways, in front of shops, or on the streets – in other words, you aren’t allowed to sleep anywhere.
“The rich are getting richer and they are trying to push us out. Instead of investing all that money on the ASB patrols, they could invest it in help for people.”
Without an address the pair are unable to claim benefits or get a job.
“It’s a Catch 22 situation,” said Raja. “If you don’t claim benefits they won’t put you into a hostel because the owners won’t get the housing benefit.”
The only thing that has kept them going has been the kindness of strangers. They have been donated blankets, flasks, hot water bottles and hot drinks, and with the change they has been given they bought the tent they now live in.
“In Hackney you have two sections - the middle class people and the rich people,” said Raja. “The middle-class people are the ones who have been there for me. They are a very nice community.
“If I say ‘good morning – have a good day,’ to people and someone responds, I really appreciate it. Otherwise I don’t feel like I’m human because people don’t acknowledge you.
“At times I feel like I’m evil, like I don’t exist. But when someone stops and talks to you it’s more important than any money or food.”
Life is obviously not easy on the streets.
“Every other day I’m getting harassed by people going past,” said Raja. “There was a guy on a bike who wanted to fight me saying I’m in the wrong because I’m on the pavement.
“I’ve got to know a lot of people on the streets and I’ve lost a lot of people. My friend was found dead on Mare Street – he died from the cold. They are dropping dead and people just don’t care.”
Before he was homeless, Raja started his working life as a postman, and went on to become a supervisor for the Royal Mail in Loughton.
But after his mother had a heart attack and was left brain damaged, he gave up his job to look after her.
She died on October 14, 2010, and he was evicted from her home in Shadwell.
“The housing association came and boarded up the house and said I wasn’t on the tenancy,” he said.
“That’s where my life spiralled out of control. Because of the bereavement I wasn’t thinking straight.”
He asked the council for help but says, because he wasn’t an alcoholic or drug addict and hadn’t at the time been diagnosed with mental health issues, he was told he wasn’t a priority. He was given a list of estate agents, but would have needed a deposit and four weeks’ rent up front, which he didn’t have. At that point he and Aisha were rehomed in hostels.
“The system runs on the basis that ‘once you are messed up, that’s when we help you,’” he said.
“If they help people before that, the person could mostly get back into work, and that would be that. Hopefully one day when I make it out of this rubbish I will do something that will change all this. It’s not right.”
A spokesman for Tower Hamlets Council said:
A spokesperson for Tower Hamlets Council said: “The Tower Hamlets street outreach response team has engaged with Mr Hamid on multiple occasions in recent years and continues to do so. He has been offered support throughout that period, including accommodation.
“The housing of rough sleepers is a complex issue and takes many forms. There can be a number of reasons why accommodation placements come to an end and often the factors are outside of the council’s control.
“While it would not be right for the council to comment in detail on an individual’s personal circumstances, we can confirm that Mr Hamid continues to receive regular visits from our outreach team and is being provided with ongoing assistance.
“Ms Khalom is not known to the council, however if she makes herself known to us we will of course explore how we can provide her with whatever support she is eligible to receive.”