The sun glares down on the streets of Streatham. The common is a scorched tan, the concrete pavements shimmer with haze. The heat wave has arrived.
The stretch of pavement opposite the now empty Tesco’s has been a microlab for the pandemic rules for some time now. Packed within 50 metres are 2 bus stops, a chippie and an off-licence. Not much further down, cafes that have been closed and are now opening, the patrons almost in each other’s laps.
Some wear masks, some don’t. Some walk around, some brush on by ignoring you. On the buses most seem to wear masks from what I can see but I am too fearful still to step onto a bus. I can see that nobody sits side by side, but clearly also people are sitting one behind the other, much less than a metre apart. Teenagers on bikes pack on the corner. The young have always been immortal.
I queue outside the off-licence for a beer. Am I scared to go to work on public transport? Hell yes. Am I prepared to risk my life for an ice cold beer? Again hell yes. But as a compromise I shuffle around outside trying to keep my distance, and several decide to go inside ahead of me to stand cheek by jowl, while I hover on the pavement, patient and seething by turns.
The phone lines are exploding with calls. Every single mother who is stuck in a hostel with a young child who cannot reasonably live cooped up in a studio, or sharing a kitchen with strangers is desperate. Every disabled person in a homeless hostel or emergency hotel is desperate. The hostels are full to bursting, the police come weekly, there are fights, drinking, weed, madness. Above all frustration of hope.
The rough sleepers were brought off the street, they haven’t had the support they need. One such young man who was illegally evicted walked 6 miles with Covid symptoms to avoid infecting others. He got no Universal Credit for 6 weeks and had no income.
Everybody wants to get out.
Even those who are wheel-chair bound are trapped in unsuitable hotels, unable to bathe, some dying of cancer.
Roksana is Roma. She and her children have been suffering in lockdown just like the rest of us. While in the street, yards from her front door, some men approach her, threaten to sexually assault her and her children who are with her, and pelt them with eggs. They tell the Romanies to go home, but they do not mean the place that is her home.
Pat is from the Irish Traveller community, she has a son with mental health problems. During the lockdown her windows are broken, stones are thrown, racial slurs follow. Pat and her family cower inside while summer blazes.
Both families flee to sofas or caravans with relatives who are overcrowded themselves.
Photographs, police crime references, calls to the local authorities, interventions from local charities, all of these are available and yet nothing changes. The Councils are overwhelmed, and liable to sweep it under the carpet.
And yet we have been so kind to each other recently. The food banks. The deliveries of food to those who are shielded. The round robin support calls for people who are self- isolating. The furlough payments. The neighbour who never speaks to her neighbour, this being London, and says how are you? The clapping for the NHS.
For example the 15,000 rough sleepers who the Minister for Housing said must be housed, no ifs no buts. True homelessness solved at a penstroke?
Alf is almost of pensionable age, lost his job
as a carpenter when his back gave out 10 years ago. He used to sleep in his car
many nights, he got a hostel at the height of the pandemic, and in that time he
was awarded Personal Independence Payment, and he used some of those arrears to
fix his car.
Now he has been found not to be in priority need and may have to moved back into his newly fixed up car.
It feels as if our coming together may be falling apart. Warm words that we were all in together became real in the pandemic. But now it is business as usual and we must kick the weak to the wall.
On the 24 of August the Courts were to have opened again to hear possession claims, and there would have been an avalanche of evictions, I am guessing. Perhaps 3,000 backlog case in my local County Court, perhaps 40,000 nationally.
But today the evictions and the Court possession cases have stopped mostly, until 20 September.
And a Council agreed to reconsider Alf’s case all over again.
Thomas Hardy said, we must treat each other with loving kindness.
After the last war we had homes for heroes. We are all heroes now, but where are the homes?
A young guy with no shirt and no mask comes out of the off-licence. He gives me the door but I hesitate to step in. He looks quizzically at me.
Outside Streatham blazes.