Up to 100,000 cars pass along the South Circular Road every day. A huge portion will have seen an improvised shelter beside a pub, beside the road – with a bed in it. Most will have wondered how the occupier got there. TOBY PORTER asked him.
A grandfather and army veteran who has made a shelter to live in at one of London’s busiest junctions has been waiting for a home for more than 10 years, he says.
Wheelchair user Patrick Doran, 52, who lost a leg in a car accident 13 years ago, has been living on the streets for more than four years.
Friends and well-wishers have helped him construct a home beside The Grove Tavern, at the junction of the South Circular Road and Lordship Lane, in East Dulwich, out of planks of wood and tarpaulin – and given him a mattress, bedding, a kettle and a stove.
But Patrick, who has two grandchildren, wants somewhere he can call home, after being housed in two different homes in Southwark since losing his leg in a car accident in 2004.
“People in offices say they will help and do nothing,” he said.
Patrick was born in Dublin and sold a salvage business there before moving to a caravan park in Peckham to work in construction in the 1980s.
He and his wife had a son, born in King’s College Hospital. But then he said he was struck by a string of personal tragedies. This included the car collision on February 18, 2004, while trying to start a business in Dublin – he had crossed two lanes of traffic and was struck by a vehicle in the fast lane. And on March 16, they decided to amputate his leg, he said. “I was in hospital for another four months, I decided enough was enough and discharged myself.
“I came out vexed with the world and lost myself in brandy and whiskey.”
He came back to London and was given a room in a homeless shelter. However, he claimed: “It was like an open prison.”
“They said I would have my own room, a kitchen, and a parking space outside for a carer.
“But there were health and safety checks by a different person every week, looking at my cooker, my fridge and my wardrobe. ‘Oh, I see you have a new jacket,’ one says. ‘I bet that was expensive’.
“They asked me to use the communal kitchen, and kept a record of when I was in and out.
“Then my grandson, who was four years old, came to visit with his mother and grandmother – they said no children were allowed. They were interfering with my life. They thought they owned me.
“I know there are drinkers and drug users in those sorts of places. But no one is going to lay a hand on that child.
“They had told me I would have my own place in four months. That turned into two years. Now, 10 years later, I still don’t have anywhere.
“I am sick of the lies and antagonism. And if you say one thing, they accuse you of being aggressive and abusive and torment you for years.
“They offered me a nice house in a quiet area close to shops, amenities and a bus stop, on the ground floor with a parking space. I got zilch.”
He had to return to Ireland again to be by the bedside of his ailing mother for five weeks, only to find, on his return, that he owed £400 in rent. He was given an eviction notice.
He was moved to a one-bed unit in Guildford Street. “It was lovely, with an en suite and an adapted shower,” he said. “I bought everything I needed – a kettle and all the essentials.
“I started going to mass and also confession regularly nearby.”
But the shower leaked all over the floor and into his bedroom. He put down towels, but nothing permanent was done. Eventually, he walked out – about four years ago.
He has spent much of the past four years on the streets, mostly near Rye Lane, Peckham.
Patrick has had pneumonia and an aneurism near his waist. He claims this was caused by the amputation operation and will require surgery. “I will feel a lot better after the operation on December 21,” he said.
“They say I might be too weak to survive. They have asked me if I want to be revived if it goes wrong.
“I can still feel like I have my foot – pain goes through me like an electric shock. Sometimes I can’t sleep for weeks at a time.”
He also has ligament damage in his right leg and nerve damage in his left arm from the car accident which almost left it useless – but pushing his wheelchair over the years has enabled him to use it again.
He found an outside alcove at The Grove and has been there several weeks. “I had been in a bad way with the drink and one night got a bad soaking in the rain,” he said. “I needed a roof over my head.
“I have decided to detox myself. I have broken my shoulder three times.
“My wheelchair was in bits.
“I found an angel, who came along and helped. A young couple saw my situation and gave me a mattress.
“People passing by gave me blankets and something to eat.
“My next step is to try and straighten things out and find a home. There are very few drinkers around here. I have not touched a drink in six weeks. If I do not want to live like a prisoner, I do not have to. But I have been threatened with vagrancy laws.
“The European Convention on Human Rights says all minorities – their way of life and culture – have to be treated with respect, no matter what their colour, creed or religion, as long as they are not hurting anyone or breaking any laws. The pen pushers and paper shufflers seem to think they are bigger than the European Court.”
He joked: “I should have a motor home, with a 24-hour nurse, who is a good cook, a good driver and beautiful to look at – that might compensate me for the torment I have been through.”
Umit, who runs Two Brothers Fish and Kebabs in nearby Lordship Lane, said: “We feel very sorry for him because we have seen him getting in and out of there from his wheelchair. We give him some food every now and then. We don’t charge him.” Another shopkeeper nearby said: “He is a lovely guy. He will get moved on soon, I am sure. The pub has been boarded up for years, but I believe contractors are going to come and clear him away. He will have to move on. I see him every morning and every night. It must be so cold out there.”
Councillor Stephanie Cryan, Southwark council’s cabinet member for housing, said: “Nobody should have to sleep on the streets and rough sleeping is something we, and our partner organisations, have worked extremely hard to tackle.
“Our outreach teams are out at night to help those in desperate circumstances and they often know each individual personally.
“There are still some people who, despite every effort, we are unable to support and who are always vulnerable to becoming homeless again, even when we have found them suitable accommodation.
“We have known Mr Doran for many years and offered him a range of support in the past. He has recently been accepted for our Housing First service, which will not only find him a suitable place to live, but also deal with the complex issues which may lead him to becoming homeless again.”
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