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Even finding some water is a daily battle, when you are on the streets in a pandemic

Water fountains have been turned off

27 August, 2020 — By Tom Foot

Water fountains have been turned off due to the coronavirus outbreak

A FORMER accountant who lost his job and now sleeps in Regent’s Park has called for water fountains to be switched back on to help struggling homeless people.

Michael Jones, who says he needs water to take his medication every day, said he had been left with no option but to steal from cafes or simply open a bottle and “hope no one notices”.

The 31-year-old said most chain stores are deterring homeless people by asking for 20p payment for plastic cups of water on environmental grounds, like the rule for supermarket bags.

Mr Jones, who lost his job and home two years ago, said: “This has had a massive impact on me and for no good reason. It is my human right to have water. I need water to live – fountains are life-saving for me.”

He added: “Before I was homeless, I would go to the continent, Paris, Madrid and Rome. They would have drinking fountains everywhere. “I don’t think they have done a risk assessment on any of this. My GP says it’s ridiculous, I’m more likely to die of thirst than coronavirus.”

The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan unveiled 50 blue and white water fountains across London, including several in Camden, last July.

But they and all other street fountains – including the historic water sources in Regent’s Park – have been switched off to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Official NHS advice says the chances of catching Covid-19 from a fountain are “very low” but authorities are treading carefully with a safe-not-sorry approach.

Mr Jones has been sleeping in the park throughout the lockdown despite efforts by local authorities to move all homeless people into hostels. He said he had been advised to go to homeless shelters for water, but added: “Personally, I don’t use the shelters. There are loan sharks there who prey on homeless people. There are people who get into debt with them and then are forced into crime, and to do things they’d rather not do. I’d rather try a Starbucks, or the UCLH A&E.”

One fountain – at the corner of Baker Street and Allsop Road, near the Regent’s Park entrance – had been on for during the lockdown but it was shut off a fortnight ago.

The Ready Money Drinking fountain, and other historic fountains in the park, have been switched off since March.

A Royal Parks spokesperson, said: “All drinking water fountains and ornamental fountains in the Royal Parks are currently turned off to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.” Mr Jones, who has a degree from Goldsmiths, said he lost his job and girlfriend two years ago, falling into a “massive spiral of depression”.

He spent months sleeping on night buses before finding a safe place in Regent’s Park, which is locked at night to the public. He said: “I have a cardiac arrhythmia. If it goes wrong I can go into atrial fibrillation. The medication controls rhythm of my heart really well. I am also on anti-depressant and I have infection in my gums.”

Mr Jones said he did not get any help from MPs because homeless people do not have addresses and are not considered constituents.

“There’s a lot of hostility towards the homeless out there,” he said. “People think you’ve done something wrong or it’s your own fault. Most people are just one or two pay cheques away from having nothing.”

He said he had been left with the option of trying to steal bottled water from chain cafes, or simply open one in a store and “hope no one notices”.

In a statement, the Mayor of London’s office has said it had “decided to temporarily close all public water fountains and pause the installation of new ones in London”, but added: “Advice from the NHS and the World Health Organisation is that coronavirus is not a waterborne virus and that the risk of catching it from a public drinking fountain is very low.”

A council spokesman said the council was following the Mayor of London and Thames Water’s advice on restarting water fountains “which is currently to keep them switched off”, adding: “Our outreach teams are working to offer everyone a route off the street so that they don’t have to sleep rough, and during hot weather our teams hand out water to those rough sleeping.”

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