Homelessness charities have criticised the “appalling” and “deeply upsetting” footage of a McDonald’s security guard soaking a homeless person’s belongings, as they called for more action to get people off the streets.
Aid workers expressed their shock and heartbreak at the incident, evidence of which emerged over the weekend, though some have told the Guardian it was sadly familiar.
“It’s incredibly sad to hear about this sort of treatment of someone forced to sleep rough – but this is not an isolated incident and is something we seem to be seeing more and more of in recent months,” said Balbir Kaur Chatrik, of the homelessness charity Centrepoint.
The footage showed a security guard using a mop bucket to soak the ground where the man had been sitting with his sleeping bag outside a Nationwide bank branch, next to a McDonald’s, in the Victoria area of central London.
The fast-food chain apologised on Sunday and said the “third-party security guards involved have been permanently removed from our restaurants and the restaurant team has been reminded of the importance of treating all people with respect”.
The man was identified by the Daily Telegraph as 25-year-old Aaron McCarthy, a Londoner since the age of 10 months, though originally from Limerick, Ireland. He told the paper his treatment by the guards was disgusting: “I had to leave because it was so stressful, and I hardly slept the entire night because my bedding was all soaked. You can still smell the bleach on my blanket.”
Matt Downie, the CEO of Crisis, said it was “appalling to see people mistreated like that”.
A spokesperson for St Mungo’s, which does outreach work in the area, said: “Not only is this an upsetting video to view, this is sadly also not a unique experience for many experiencing rough sleeping. Every individual experiencing homelessness and rough sleeping deserves the utmost respect, as much as any in our communities, and many of our clients report to us daily of the kind of dehumanising and awful treatment they often receive while living on the streets.”
They called for action from Westminster to “solve the rising homelessness crisis and to actively promote compassion towards those experiencing it”. Referring to recent comments by the former home secretary Suella Braverman, St Mungo’s added: “Homelessness is not a lifestyle choice, but a political one, and more action should be taken by the government to help those vulnerable in our communities and foster a supportive society towards them.”
Polly Neate, the chief executive of Shelter, called the footage “deeply upsetting”, saying it provided a “stark reminder of the daily dangers that people face when they’re forced to sleep rough; not only are you harshly exposed to the elements, you are also much more likely to attacked, harassed, or abused”.
She echoed the call for action, adding that bringing an end to homelessness would require investment in “genuinely affordable social homes”.
Among the others who expressed their sadness at the footage were the Salvation Army and Housing Justice, as well as the Single Homeless Project and Depaul, which said it ran an emergency accommodation service called Nightstop, under which trained and vetted volunteers offered young people a room for a night.
The Salvation Army said people would continue to suffer on the streets unless ministers made housing them a priority and provided local authorities with adequate funding.
Jacob Dimitriou, Housing Justice’s director for England, called the incident “simply unacceptable and [it] should not be tolerated anywhere”, while Toni Warner, of Single Homeless Project, said: “Tragically, we know that what happened in Victoria is not an unusual story. Sleeping rough is dangerous and it’s brutal, especially during the winter.”
People concerned about someone sleeping rough were also encouraged to ask them if they would like to be referred to the Streetlink service, where they can find help.
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