Redbridge Together: Crisis worsens as rough sleepers’ camp in Ilford town centre grows

PUBLISHED: 12:30 14 June 2018

Mattresses and sofas line the pavement in Havelock Street. Photo: Aaron Walawalkar

Mattresses and sofas line the pavement in Havelock Street. Photo: Aaron Walawalkar


A homeless camp hidden in the heart of Ilford town centre is burgeoning.

Mattresses and sofas line the pavement in Havelock Street. Photo: Aaron Walawalkar Mattresses and sofas line the pavement in Havelock Street. Photo: Aaron Walawalkar

A homeless camp hidden in the heart of Ilford town centre is burgeoning.

Rough sleepers have been seeking respite in the Havelock Street underpass, behind the Ilford Exchange and Marks & Spencer, for at least two years.

The makeshift camp consisted of a sprawl of 14 mattresses and two sofas, on The Recorder’s last visit on Sunday, June 10.

When the Recorder first reported on the issue in December 2016, the camp had around five beds and an estimated 10 to 20 inhabitants.

Joanne. Photo: Aaron Walawalkar Joanne. Photo: Aaron Walawalkar

Now up to 30 people sleep there, according to the estimate of 48-year-old Ryan*, who has stayed there for the past year.

The Recorder spoke to some of those sleeping rough in Havelock Street about life in the camp.

Ryan, originally from Derby, has been sleeping rough ever since he lost his wife and child in a motorcycle accident almost 30 years ago.

“I haven’t got any real family left,” he said. “My mum and dad are both in the sky.”

Homeless camp on Havelock Street in Ilford in December 2016. Photo: Rosaleen Fenton Homeless camp on Havelock Street in Ilford in December 2016. Photo: Rosaleen Fenton

He claims to have circled the entire British coast twice while sleeping rough, settling in Havelock Street thanks to its relative safety and shelter.

His partner Jane became homeless after her agency work dried up and mounting debts forced her to sell her home in Barking and declare herself bankrupt.

Desmond, originally from Barking, says he worked for 15 years at Redbridge Council, first as a street sweeper and then as a dustman.

“When my mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2015, that all came to an end,” said the 35-year-old, adding: “I lost everything.”

For the past six days, he and his wife Joanne, 36, have been sleeping in Havelock Street.

Asked what it is like to stay here, he said: “It’s OK if you are a man, but if you’re a woman you have got to be careful.”

He spoke of two sexual assault attempts against women in the camp in the past week which, unreported to the police, could not be independently verified.

Joanne, originally from Hackney, added: “This place is good in terms of people giving you food. But there are rats here and pigeons.”

Both hope that they will soon be able to move into a hostel and are optimistic about Project Malachi – a pioneering pop-up hostel plan headed by the Ilford Salvation Army.

They are joined by engineering student Joshua who, at 21, should have a life full of promise. But for the past year, Havelock Street has been his home on nights when domestic abuse means he cannot bear to stay at in his Ilford home.

“I have known [my stepdad] since I was about seven and he has made it a habit to tell me I am not his son,” he said, adding: “He beats my mum.

“He goes out of his way to hurt her.

“I can’t stand to be around there.”

Born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Joshua was raised in South Africa and moved to the UK three years ago.

With nowhere else to go, last night he made his bed in Havelock Street as he did the Monday before.

Ilford Salvation Army Captain John Clifton said: “It’s no surprise that people sleeping rough are looking for safe and dry places to rest their head.

“It highlights how vital it is for the borough to develop decent accommodation that people can access to get back on their feet.

“Project Malachi is one way to do this, and we need Redbridge Together to raise the money to make it a reality.”

James Mugford, M&S store manager, and part of the Redbridge Together team, said: “As a team we’re working with expert partners to look at how we help tackle rough sleeping in Redbridge and how we raise vital funds and engage the community. The M&S team has raised thousands already and will continue to be at the forefront of the initiative.”

*Names have been changed to protect source’s identity


Redbridge Together

Redbridge Together aims to raise £500,000 for two projects at the heart of helping the homeless in the borough.

Two thirds of all money raised will go towards the creation of pioneering pop-up hostel Project Malachi and one third to The Welcome Centre day centre for the homeless.

Project Malachi aims to create a temporary hostel for rough sleepers and homeless people using recycled shipping containers on the site of a crumbling former funeral directors in Chadwick Road to rebuild their lives.

The Welcome Centre, in St Mary’s Road, offers wide ranging services from laundry to counselling.

You can support by donating money, raising funds, displaying Redbridge Together promotional material in businesses or offering work placements.

Redbridge Together is an association an association between Ilford Salvation Army, The Welcome Centre, Ilford BID, the Ilford Recorder and Redbridge Council.

To get involved email:

Donate £3 by texting LIFE to 70145 or at

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