Hadley Freeman.

At my local homeless shelter, some inhabitants leave every night to work at Amazon factories; some are Uber drivers


My walk to work is not a long one – 15 minutes at a decent clip. Nor is it a particularly lovely one, as it largely involves trudging down Caledonian Road, a London high street so tatty, it features in the next series of The Crown as a stand-in for grim 70s Britain.

The TV crew didn’t even have to add dated shop signs or abandoned store fronts, since they all still come as standard.

But the great advantage of my commute is that it’s above ground. On the tube, all you notice is how delayed your train is and how badly it smells. Overground, you watch your neighbourhood changing around you, and the biggest change this past year has been the number of homeless people I pass on my way to work.

Along Regent’s Canal, which runs through the £3bn King’s Cross development, in the course of which derelict buildings and nightclubs were pushed out for Google HQ, luxury apartments and, yes, the Guardian offices, there is now a row of pop-up tents that weren’t there this time last year.

King’s Cross train station has also had a fancy makeover, with a pretty piazza where photogenic stalls sell artisanal bread. But the most noticeable new feature is the bank of mattresses that lies in front of it, where homeless people sit quietly, watching commuters drink £3 coffees.

When my family drove past the station during the Christmas break, I watched two men approaching cars stopped at red lights to beg for change, something I hadn’t seen since I lived in the US.

Up on Caledonian Road, public phone booths are filled by day with flattened cardboard boxes, waiting to be used as mattresses at night.

Before Christmas, the housing secretary James Brokenshire insisted that the fact the number of people sleeping rough has more than doubled since 2010 has nothing to do with Tory policies.

Rather, he said, it was due to drug addiction, family breakdown and the number of foreigners. Brokenshire has since rowed back from this palpably ludicrous claim, admitting that Tories “need to ask ourselves some very hard questions”.

Anyone who has seen this for themselves – which is to say, everyone who lives in a British city – could have told him that, because what has really changed is not just the number of homeless people, but who these homeless people are.


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