WestEndExtra

The independent London newspaper

Homeless man: Switch park fountain back on

Former accountant with heart condition says he needs water supply - cut as part of coronavirus safety measures - to take his medication

14 August, 2020 — By Tom Foot

Michael Jones, who says he suffered a ‘massive spiral of depression’ after losing his job, sleeps rough in Regent’s Park

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 in the heatwave.

Michael Jones, who has to take his medication every day, said he had been relying on a fountain at the corner of Baker Street and Allsop Road, which was switched off this week.

It is believed to be the last functioning fountain left in a Westminster street or park after more than 100 were turned off by various London authorities because of Covid-19.

Official advice is that coronavirus is not waterborne and the chances of “catching it from a public drinking fountain are very low”.

Mr Jones, who has a heart condition, said: “This has had a massive impact on me and for no good reason. It has a pedal so you don’t put your hand on anything. I relied on it to take my medication. It is my human right to have water. I need water to live – and that fountain has been life-saving for me.”

The 31-year-old, 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.

Mr Jones said he was regularly turned away from chain stores when asking for cups of water.

Staff now ask for 20p for the cup on environmental grounds, like the plastic bag rule in supermarkets.

He said it meant he would have to try to steal bottled water from Starbucks, or simply open one in a store and “hope no one notices”.

The advice has been to go to homeless shelters but Mr Jones said he was afraid to go to shelters because of people there he needs to avoid.

Mr Jones said: “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. I’d rather go to Starbucks or the hospital A&E.”

He added: “I have a cardiac arrhythmia; if it goes wrong I can go into atrial fibrillation. This medication controls rhythm of my heart really well. I am also on anti-depressant and I have infection in my gums. I don’t think they have done a risk assessment on any of this. It’s like being in a third world African village. My GP says it’s ridiculous that I’m more likely to die of thirst than coronavirus.”

Mr Jones said he did not get any help from MP Nickie Aiken’s office because homeless people do not have addresses and are not considered constituents.

“I am a human, I am present in the borough,” he said. “I rang Shelter – they said ‘we don’t campaign for water’. Before I was homeless, I would go to the continent, Paris, Madrid and Rome. They would have fountains everywhere.”

He added: “There’s a lot of hostility towards the homeless. They 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.”

Mr Jones said he was in dialogue with Westminster Council about the fountain but a spokesperson said yesterday (Thursday) it was Transport for London’s responsibility.

The council said it had been working with voluntary groups to hand out bottled water and energy drinks to homeless people to protect from heat exhaustion.

Councillor Heather Acton added: “The hot weather can be just as dangerous as the cold for people living on the streets and I am so pleased to see such a massive community effort to ensure some of the most vulnerable people in our society have shaded or indoor spaces to visit so they don’t suffer in the heat.”

In a statement, City Hall has said it had “decided to temporarily close all Mayor of London / Thames Water 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.”
Transport for London will respond in next week’s Extra.

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