“When you sleep on the streets, anything you have in your pockets might be taken; people constantly try to mug you and beat you up – so, in the end, it becomes easier to stay awake.”
That’s what Taz, a 61-year-old Nigerian homeless man who has lived in and around Shoreditch, East London, for over 40 years, told me when I took to the streets a couple of months ago to ask homeless people about how sleep deprivation affects their mental health.
The niggling thought I couldn’t escape was, “Why have I never read about this area of homelessness before?” And when I saw the news last week that Scotland’s government has pledged to reduce homeless people’s stays in hostels and B&Bs to no longer than seven days, my shock turned to anger. I wondered why on earth England hadn’t taken the same measures to fight the injustices homeless people face – particularly at a time when the latest data from the charity Chain shows that there has been a rise in rough sleeping across London over the past year. This is an ongoing, even worsening issue.