• Welcome to all New Sikh Philosophy Network Forums!
    Explore Sikh Sikhi Sikhism...
    Sign up Log in

The Homeless Who Slide Down Rubbish Chutes To Their Beds (Evening Standard Dispossessed Fund)


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Dispossessed: The homeless who slide down rubbish chute to their beds

For the last two months, father of three Pirthy Sandhu has been sleeping rough on the Havelock Estate in Southall, and at 10pm every night, he climbs through a hole in a wall below a sign that says "please put your rubbish into the chute" and slips down the chute into a giant wheelie bin full of garbage.

He hauls himself out, rummages for his sleeping-bag hidden in the corner, spreads it out on the dank, concrete floor between the bins and, despite the overpowering stench, tries to grab a few hours sleep.

But within minutes Mr Sandhu, 39, is interrupted as a second man, Gurpreet Singh, 23, arrives down the chute and clatters into the tomb-like basement. He, too, has recently become jobless and homeless and arranges his sleeping bag alongside Mr Sandhu's.

By midnight, 10 young men in their twenties and thirties - including seven Sikhs, two Muslims and one white -have bedded down in the pungent bin room.

"We get massive rats crawling over us at night and sometimes foxes jump into the bins and we have to chase them out," says Mr Sandhu, an unskilled labourer who came to London from the Punjab 16 years ago. "The place is disgusting but we have nowhere else to go and on freezing nights it's a roof over our heads to keep us dry before the caretaker throws us out at 6am."

Locals call them "the bin men of Southall" and more than 50 of them occupy half a dozen of these appalling, rat-infested bin-rooms on the sprawling 21-hectare Havelock Estate - just a short walk from the Southall Gurdwara, the temple where they get three free meals a day.

I witnessed their plight and before the night was out, I would also visit the so-called "bridge men", the rough sleepers bedding down in similarly horrendous conditions under the M4 overpass at Heston Bridge on the border of Southall and Hounslow.

How can this be happening in 2011? After spending a year interviewing the capital's most deprived people for our Dispossessed Campaign, I thought I was immune, but to witness the depraved sleeping arrangements of these bin and bridge men shocked me to the core.

It is, of course, a manifestation of an alarming broader trend. Figures published by the Standard last month showed that London's rough sleepers have soared by almost a quarter, from 3,017 in 2007/8 to 3,673 in 2009/10.

In Southall, known as "Little India" because two-thirds of its 70,000 population are South Asian and home to the largest Sikh population in London, three rough sleepers died this winter, unable to survive the coldest December since 1981.

But the death rate would have been substantially higher, say locals, if not for a £2,000 grant provided by the Evening Standard Dispossessed Fund to a small but passionate new charity, the Sikh Welfare Awareness Team (SWAT), which supplied 100 rough sleepers in Southall with warm jackets and sleeping bags.

"Two years ago, you'd never find anyone sleeping rough round here, but now over 150 homeless people including women sleep rough in the Southall Ealing area," says Randeep Lall, 39, a co-founder of SWAT. "We have eight volunteers who go out every night to help the homeless, and the people we see sleep in dustbins, cemeteries, disused garages, under bridges and residential alleyways. One man leaves the temple when it closes at 11pm and goes into a phone box until the temple re-opens at 3am for morning worship. It's not just Sikhs we help either."

According to Mr Lall, the local politicians have turned a blind eye to the problem, including Labour MP for Ealing Southall, Virendra Sharma. "We recently invited Mr Sharma to visit our new youth club which offers a Wednesday night boxing club and a Friday night programme to combat drug use among teenagers, and while he was there I asked for his help in tackling the growing homeless problem on our doorstep. I couldn't believe his response. He turned to me and said: 'I have no compassion for these people. Their situation is totally self-inflicted. I'm happy to say that publicly on camera'."

The Standard tried to reach Mr Sharma to ask him what he meant by "self-inflicted", but he was out of the country attending his father's funeral.

But today he said in a statement: "I have been working for some time with the British and Indian governments to stem the flow of illegal immigrants coming to Southall by various means. Some of them are students who were not interviewed face to face for visas and came into the UK in the hope that they could earn enough money to live through working for their permitted 20 hours a week. With the onset of the recession this has proved impossible and many students became destitute. I along with Ealing council and the community of Southall have been working to try and find solutions to this problem but it is not easy as many of those who are destitute do not have visas and are reluctant to engage with the authorities."

Mayor Boris Johnson recently announced a £710,000 programme to begin in April that aims to prevent rough sleepers spending a second night on the streets. The idea, he said, is to address the hardcore of around 360 rough sleepers spotted on our streets more than 10 times last year and to make sure that nobody is sleeping more than one consecutive night on the street by 2012.

"The reasons why these people sleep rough are complex and will take political will to sort out," says Mr Lall, a local businessman born and bred in London and who started SWAT to help "the forgotten people" in his community. "Most are Sikhs who came from the Punjab because they were told London's streets were paved with gold. They're hard-working and they send money to their family in India every month, but when they lose their jobs, they are too proud to take state hand-outs.

"Some are visa over-stayers not entitled to benefits and others are entitled to benefits but their English is not good enough to manage the form-filling. There are no homeless hostels near here - the closest ones are about seven miles away.

Param Kumar, 32, used to rent a flat in Ilford, but since he lost his job, he's been bedding down in a sleeping bag provided by the Evening Standard under the M4 Heston bridge. When I ask him why, he replies: "Where else? I used to earn £300 a week with a motorway maintenance firm but I was fired a year ago and could no longer afford to rent a room.

"I came from the Punjab to London as a 13-year-old boy on my own. I have permanent residence here, but I have never applied for benefits. I don't know how. I don't write good English. Also, I don't take handouts. I want to earn money myself."

One problem faced by rough sleepers is that they have nowhere to wash. "We can shave at the temple," says "bin-man" Gurpreet Singh, "but there are no facilities to shower. The last time I had a proper wash was six weeks ago."

For Ashok Kumar, who slept under Heston Bridge for three months before SWAT found him a place to live and a new temporary job, the idea of telling his relatives in India that he'd fallen on bad times, or of returning to India, is not an option. "I came here in 2003 at the age of 32 to make a better life for myself and to send money back to my wife and three children in the Punjab," he says.

"If my family knew that I lived under a bridge, they'd be horrified. But I can't go back because there is no work there and I don't want to be a burden on them."

For some, like Pirthy Sandhu, estranged from the mother of his children and without a job, sleeping in the bins is a daily battle to maintain his dignity as a human being. "We do what we can to keep the place decent, like at night, if you want to urinate, you do it in a bottle. You see," he smiles wanly, "even in our bin room, we still have standards."

Invitation for fund applications

The Evening Standard Dispossessed Fund is inviting applications for its next round of grants of between £2,000 and £10,000 each, which are available to groups tackling deprivation in London. To be eligible you will:

1) Be a not-for-profit, third sector voluntary or community group active in your local community for not less than 12 months.

2) Have an evidenced income of less than £250,000 per annum.

3) Be working to lift people out of poverty in one of the following areas:

Training and educating people who have dropped out of mainstream education; getting people into work such as through apprenticeship or mentor schemes; fighting gangs, knife and gun crime; improving mental and physical health and well-being; addressing other examples of poverty such as homelessness, or the working poor.

Deadline for applications is January 28. Grants will be awarded in April. Please DO NOT call the paper.



  • homeless415.jpg
    25.1 KB · Reads: 521
  • homeless in uk.jpg
    homeless in uk.jpg
    11.1 KB · Reads: 548
  • homeless in uk002.jpg
    homeless in uk002.jpg
    8.8 KB · Reads: 524

Gyani Jarnail Singh

Sawa lakh se EK larraoan
Jul 4, 2004
at least these have rubbish bins and chutes..those in INDIA sleep on the ROADSIDES in full view under the sky !! Anyone seen the BHAIYAH COLONIES along main roads in PUNJAB...bits of plastic on sticks serve as roof/walls and kiddos playing naked in the freezing cold winters...Punjabis drive past without a second look !! POVERTY poverty.
📌 For all latest updates, follow the Official Sikh Philosophy Network Whatsapp Channel: