What is it? Technically it’s a long-stay hotel room; more realistically it’s a corridor someone put a bed in, and if you squint and turn your head at it like a Magic Eye™ picture then you’ll see it’s something more akin to a holding cell. Not a prison cell – no, come on – but say for instance you had one of those scraps outside McDonald’s, which isn’t a fight exactly, but some pink lad gets a really torn stretched T-shirt (there is always a really pink lad with a really torn, stretched T-shirt, isn’t there? Bleeding from one eyebrow despite not taking any visible hits? Often he is this mashed up and ruined, like, four seconds into the fight itself? How did he get so battered, so quickly? How can a human being so inclined to scrap outside McDonald’s also be so physically thin-skinned and soft?) and the police are there, almost immediately, because it’s a British high street on a Friday night, and you get held in a cell for like five hours until they hand you your shoes and jacket back and tell you to fuck off, and you have to walk really sheepishly home and your mum is fucking fuming. This is just that holding cell, only they put a towel on the bed.
Where is it? Actually, location-wise, one of the best we’ve ever seen: directly on Green Lanes, which realistically is one of the best places in London, because it’s this perfectly sustained blend of new-school gentrification and old-school London – a perfect kilometre of harmony, on one side good refurbished pubs slinging sourdough pizza and a considered draught selection, on the other, one of those cab offices you don’t really dare go into because they seem to also sell fireworks. Also, realistically, where in the country are you possibly going to get a better kebab.
What is there to do locally? Green Lanes is good because it has two of the best features of “medium-sized British towns” at either end of it, divided by an endless row of Turkish barbers, bakeries and restaurants. At the lower end, a sort of out-of-town shopping complex (Big Homebase, Big Sainsbury’s, Big TK Maxx, Big Poundland: frankly, what more could one want?) and at the other end, one of those lots-of-shiny-red-bricks-and-ramps-that-go-seemingly-nowhere shopping centres built around a cinema (Matalan, Argos, Greggs; a shuttered BHS, an unbranded piri-piri chicken restaurant; a New Look, a Sports Direct, a Claire’s; one of London’s rare, golden Wilkos) and then, the jewel in the crown, a just-the-right-level-of-sticky-carpet-and-threatening-vibes Wetherspoons. Writing all this down I can’t believe I don’t go to Green Lanes more. Might go there now. Might sack this off and go there now—
Alright, how much are they asking? 800 of your pounds per month, sire!
Our cities are now designed almost exclusively to spite homeless people. This, for instance, is why you can’t really go to a public toilet anymore. It’s why it’s very hard to find a bench that isn’t bisected by uncomfortable iron bars. Why public parks have a curfew on them, and gates that get locked up, and why you can’t find any shade in public on sunny days. Why offices would rather have a series of spikes outside them than an asleep human being who wakes up at 7AM and moves on. Why you can’t really ever find water, out and about, and if you get thirsty you have to buy a plastic bottle from the shop.
It’s hard to get exact figures, for obvious reasons, but these 2019/20 statistics pitch the rough sleeper population of the capital at 10,720, which is about 0.11 percent of the people who exist in London. That is of course not a number to be sniffed at, but it’s also a relatively tiny amount of people to weaponise a city against. It really feels like all that money spent on spikes and “don’t give your change to the homeless” tube announcements and unnecessary policing and closing public toilets could be spent, I don’t know, on… solving that issue? Am I being naive? Sometimes I think I’m being naive, and then sometimes I think a guy in a suit got asked if he had any change for a cup of tea once in 1995, in a way he slightly disliked, and immediately marched to City Hall and started the wheels in motion to make sure a homeless person could never sit down in London again, instead of just saying, “Haven’t got any coins on me mate, sorry.”
Anyway, I suppose the point is that, at some point, this column is going to have to confront the difference between “property that is of an acceptable standard to rent and buy” and “an alleyway someone slept in once, so a landlord decided to put two walls either end of it and try to charge rent”, because the line is starting to judder and blur. Take, for instance, this place, in Harringay, which is essentially a corridor crossed with a provincial police station holding cell, arguably one of the grimmest places ever spotlighted on this beloved regular feature. It costs £800 per month:
Let’s go through the stand-out features in order, shall we? The bathroom window is too narrow for a human being to slither through, but it has bars on it regardless, and at first I thought, ‘Why the bars? Why would such a small window need so many… bars?’ But then I realised that nobody puts bars on a bathroom window that small unless – on multiple occasions – someone has bricked the back window in and squirmed in to steal stuff, so not the most soothing sight in a 13m2 flat, especially if you think – in a space that small! – how immediately you would be confronted by a person if they did manage to break in and do that.
It does not help, of course, that one of two front windows has itself seemingly been bricked in and, instead of replacing the window, they just taped a big bit of Stanley®-branded cardboard to the hole instead, so of the three available windows in this flat, one is barred against crime and one is just a piece of cardboard. The other is a window, for now.
The bathroom is laid out psychotically – I do not understand how one of the adjoining walls curves into the bathroom itself? Like it just bulges out towards the toilet, then in again? – with the shower apparently draining into a hole on the floor and, for some reason, a big set of shelves set up next to it (if you look at the floorplan, the bathroom takes up about 40 percent of the flat itself, so feasibly this is the only realistic place for you to have any storage).
Does the flat have a kitchen? The ad says it has access to a communal one. Does the flat have any washing machine, or way of doing laundry? Not in any way, not at all. At what time in the AM does the garage next door start using power drills and blasting the radio at high volume to be heard over the clanks of the mechanics? Totally guessing here, but I’d imagine somewhere between 7 and 8, six days a week. Is the TV set at an angle where it is at all visible from anywhere in the flat? I think you can bend it out so it hovers above your bed, but you can’t actually watch it while sitting in bed, because it is too high, but then I suppose you’ll be too busy watching the piece of cardboard by your door to see if anyone fancies bricking it in again to actually watch and catch-up with the news or anything. At least it has a radiator, I suppose. At least they left exactly one dry towel out on the bed.
“Inside, the property reflects a modern and aesthetically appealing finish, with carpeted flooring and the studio is furnished with beds,” the property listing reads, and though I could sit here and call doubt on literally every single word of that, I suppose the moral of the story is this: London has long been a city that is hostile to homeless people. That hostility is now starting to inch behind its double-glazed doors. Eventually, everyone who isn’t a registered MP or doesn’t have a provable income from oil wealth will be exiled. In 20 years, this place will just be billionaires going to M&M’s World and Grand Designs-lite couples who bought a three-bed in Leytonstone and are now writing fuming columns for The Telegraph about how their “dream home turned into a nightmare” because nobody wants to buy it off them for £4.5 million pounds.
My plan by then is to hope tent technology has advanced enough that I can pitch one semi-safely at the mouth of a disused quarry and write columns saying how bad that is before submitting them via a dongle. See you all there.