A homeless army veteran is sleeping rough in the gardens of the Imperial War Museum.
The 32-year-old man, who would only identify himself as M, said he served as a safety car driver for ten years – but has been living on the streets for the past 18 months after being discharged.
He said: “I got here last night when it started raining heavily. I was up in the West End, near Soho. I’ve been sleeping rough for 18 months.
“I was in the army for ten years. I didn’t see much action – I was a safety car driver.
“When I left the army I was given a rail warrant, that was it. They asked me where I wanted to go, and I said London.
“They gave me a travel warrant, and that was it. They didn’t give me any other help.
“I was in a hospital in Victoria called King George’s for a while, and I was getting eaten alive by bed bugs. The place was infested with mice.
“To be honest, I do better out on the streets – mentally and financially – than I do in the hospital.”
M, who is from Workington in Cumbria, is one of at least three men sleeping rough in the grounds of the Imperial War Museum.
As well as the three tents in a shaded enclave of the garden where he is living, there is another round the corner from the entrance to the museum.
M said: “I work up in Soho – begging – and I sleep down here. This is my penthouse apartment.
“Nobody from the museum has come out and spoken to us since we’ve been here. The police haven’t come by.”
His bright blue tent, where he lives with a dog, is pitched next to another inhabited by an Irishman called Paddy, who did not want to talk.
Gesturing towards a grey tent across from his own, M added: “I haven’t seen that guy there for days now. He might be dead in there, I don’t know. It doesn’t look very liveable does it.”
Since he’s been homeless, M has become hooked on Spice – the synthetic so-called “zombie drug” that has been causing havoc across London.
Pointing to a cigarette he had been smoking, he said: “I’ve been doing a lot of Spice – that’s my kryptonite. Horrible.
“I’ve lost maybe three stone in six months. I’ve been doing it a lot longer – since it was in the shops. You can’t eat anything when you’re on it – it’s a horrible, horrible, horrible drug.”
Even though he’s been living in front of the museum for less than 24 hours, M is already fearing for his safety.
“We had a couple of young lads last night trying to set our tents on fire. When that heavy rain started they stood at the fence behind us and shouted, ‘Hey you in the tent, we’ve got a gun to your head.’
“And then they all walked off, but 20 minutes later they came in and I could see lighters on the side of my tent so I jumped out.”