It turns out that in London, begging on the streets can be more profitable than getting a job.
Ed Stafford found this out for himself while filming a documentary for Channel 4’s 60 Days on the Streets.
Stafford is a former army captain and Amazon trekker but spent two months on the streets of Glasgow, Manchester, and London for the TV show. In this week’s episode, he explores why a lot of homeless gravitate to the capital, and whether or not they’re the real deal.
In the course of Stafford’s experiment, he meets Darren, who he believes is homeless. But it turns out that after Darren makes his day’s “earnings,” usually around £100($130), he goes back to his apartment in Brixton for a shower and a hot meal.
Stafford also meets Neil who says he can make £30($40) in half an hour begging and brags about owning a two-bedroom house in Dartford where he stays with his son.
“’I do feel a bit of a c*** not being homeless,” he admits. “I’m a drug addict – I’ve got to feed it somehow.”
The episode didn’t start out well for Stafford when some of the homeless found out he’s filming a documentary. One woman shouted abuse at him for posing as one of the homeless.
At first, he found it tough to bed down for the night as rough sleepers already have their chosen spots. He does find a spot two hours later only to find out after waking up that someone had urinated there.
Next day he meets Darren who allows him to share a spot in Charing Cross with him. He also gave Stafford tips on how to look after himself on the street and the best way to make money from strangers.
“Make sure you position yourself against a wall,” Darren says. “Put your property behind you no one can steal it.”
“If you get pound coins in your pot – take them out, otherwise people can take them.
“Then take your shoes off and wrap your sleeping bag around your feet, with a magazine – it’s about creating a picture for people.”
Stafford says, “Darren has taught me a lot – by painting a picture you really tug on some peoples heartstrings.”
Darren then brags about how much he’s made on the streets, saying: “The biggest donators are the ones that have been to the pub, they give you silly money – I got £600($790) off one person.”
Not only that, Darren isn’t actually homeless. He invites Stafford back to his flat in Brixton where he reveals why he still stays on the streets.
“A lot of people on the street are intentionally there. You can earn £100($130) in one day begging.”
The 47-year-old added that he was given the flat from a housing association when he left prison. He wanted to get a job and stop begging but the jobs that were offered to him only paid £8($10) an hour.
“I’m sure people who have given Darren this money would be up in arms if they knew he was coming back to this flat every night, but he clearly wants to give up begging and get a job,” Stafford says.
Another person the host meets is Lee, who has been in and out of prison and been on the streets for 18 months. Lee is friends with Neil who maintains a two-bedroom house in Dartford.
Neil says: “I used to drive for an armed robber – we got chased a few times. The one time I didn’t drive for them they got caught – he is now doing 35 years in prison.”
He adds: “I can make £30($40) in half an hour begging. The spot I share down there is with someone who is actually homeless – because I’m not. I have a two bedroom house – you can come round if you want to.”
They circumvent the train fare by going through an open barrier. Lee explains it’s “the homeless way to travel.”
At Neil’s home in Dartford, he tells them to “excuse the mess,” saying: “I’m not very good at doing housework.”
He then gets on the phone to order half a gram of heroin.
“I found myself in a situation where Neil is injecting heroin in his house,” explains Stafford.
“It’s quite a difficult situation to go along with, but this is what life on the streets is like – if you get offered a sofa to sleep on you take it.”
For the rest of the episode, Stafford can be seen meeting others who have turned to drink and drugs because of their homeless state.
He’s also amazed by how much food he gets offered so that he never goes hungry.
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