When the snow made a blanket over the city two weeks ago on Tuesday night, the heavy sounds and busy streets of the city became a little more muted. On Wednesday morning the cycle path only had a few lone tracks from daring riders. From the window in my class the flakes spun their way into my head. I thought it looked beautiful.
Come Friday evening and the realities of London’s cruelty hit home. I had spared a thought for people sleeping out the day before but had not really understood the extent of it. This is deeply ironic considering I had walked past the corner of Lincoln’s Inn fields the total of five times between Tuesday and Friday. As part of the SAVE FOOD movement led by LSE students, on Friday I intercepted surplus food from Gail’s Bakery in Tottenham Court Road to distribute it to whoever was at the corner and in need that evening. In part naivety and part hope I had thought that the ‘Severe Weather Emergency Protocol’ (SWEP) had found the time, resources and space for people without a heated flat to return to. But, standing in front of loaves of cold bread, transferring hot cross buns to cold hands, it was hard to see the sludgy now-slightly-brown ice beneath my feet in the same light. One young gentleman, breathing in the heat from the cup of tea in his hand advised an older friend that the ‘warmest place there is at the moment is in the park’. And later, furthering to insist that ‘right in the middle’ was where they should make home. It was hard to understand how cold plus park meant home. Especially as the middle of Lincoln’s Inn seems to be a part of London that the street lamps don’t reach.
A part of me thought that maybe it wasn’t true. I still held onto the fact that once temperatures go into minus people seem to start to come to a bit more sense and offer a greater number of safe spaces. And, with the loaves still in our bags, and the number people eating dinner thinning out it seemed to hold some truth. It stayed true until a gentleman with one rucksack and two sleeping bags starting pushing his possessions between the park’s metal gate. I recognised him as a sweet tooth, having handed him some chocolate biscuits this week and scones the week before. This in itself struck me as an awkward relationship, sometimes I want to keep my own eating habits just to myself. His rucksack went first. His sleeping bag second. Then, he himself went over the gate. He’d done this before, it was a careful and skilful practice. How ridiculous it seems, then, that the top of the gate is so high, so spiked, and even locked in the first place.
Lincoln’s Inn Fields feels like an extension of our campus. It was on the snow days, and will be in summer too. But it is still hard to understand that for some people, who, for so many reasons and in so many personalised contexts, it is a place to go to rest at the day’s close. There has been a lot of media attention about the impact of the adverse weather on the effects of those sleeping out. STREETLINK and SWEP have showed that for many reaching out is desirable and is possible. But, there is still little voice given to those who stay outside, even in freezing temperatures.
The snow will melt and the air will become less cutting, but whether that makes sleeping in the park any more morally acceptable is something I think we should continue to interrogate.