Undercover: Spare Change


Written by Steven
12 Tuesday 12th February 2008

A few weeks ago I came across an old friend from my school days. A one time football genius and schoolgirl-magnet ‘Danny’ (name changed) has been living in London’s tube network for the past three months. He has no home, no mobile and no income. He doesn’t have a Facebook profile - he doesn’t even have a myspace! He’s well and truly fucked and he’s not alone.


'Danny' during happier times.

Over 1,600 people sleep rough on London’s streets every night. But according to these guys you can earn up to 280 squids a day on the streets. So between government hand-outs, the dole and the kindness of strangers (you can always rely on the kindness of strangers), homeless people that smell of wee are living the high life (literally). I told ‘Danny’ I’d spend the night ‘out on the town’ with him over two nights, hopefully earning enough to cover next month's rent and beer money.

Well even if you're going to be living in piss and shit for two whole days you gotta have some standards right?


The first thing you need to do when going undercover is sort out your look. I decide to go with the East-London staples of badly-fitting jeans and a lumberjack shirt. My jeans were the big, baggy sort of ones men used to wear before Cheap Mondays came out. I top it off with one of those ski-hats everyone wears nowadays and don't wear my glasses in case everyone thinks I am Lightspeed Champion (that would have given me an unfair advantage).

I plan to meet up with ‘Danny’ at his spot by Old Street Station. He’s not there but all his stuff is. I wonder if he’s worried everyone will steal it, then I realise it stinks of piss. I try and find a spot near his but they are all taken. I don’t feel like getting into it with one of the homeless guys that guard every exit (the piss thing) so I just wait.

Ten minutes later and still no sign of Danny. I consider ringing his mobile and then remember he’s a tramp and doesn’t have a mobile. I know he’s somewhere getting drunk off Super Tenants and smoking all kinds of shit without me. I want to party so I go looking for him and find him by a bin outside one of the kebab shops along Old St (avoid! avoid! avoid!).

I check Danny’s tin and he’s earned about £8 so far tonight. "Great this is enough for 6 Stellas for a fiver and a pack of fags or something. Shall I go in while you wait here?", I ask, but Dan says he needs the money for "stuff" and quickly grabs his tin back off me.

Three or so hours later and I have almost earned a fiver myself, much to Danny’s annoyance who accuses me of "not really needing it" and "taking the piss." I want to point out that if anybody has "taken a piss" recently it doesn’t smell like its coming from me, but just mumble something about a "life swap" and shuffle off. I will come to regret this later.


Fuck this fucking piece-of-shit-loser, GET A J.O.B dumbass!



I spend Saturday morning in the worst mood I’ve ever been in. The filthy disgusting squat I spent the night in with Danny was the most horrible experience ever. People kept coming and going, and the cat-wee aroma of fresh heated heroin filled the air. Plus we still haven’t got drunk even once yet. My spirits lift a little when I remember that beggars earn approx 60 - 120 squids a day begging for change and it was early enough to beat the ‘regulars’ to one of the coveted Old St exit stops.

Also, Danny finally wants to get some drink. I get the first round in with Special Brew for all (both of us). You’ve probably never tasted it before. It tastes like cough syrup mixed with vinegar and AIDS. I throw the can and go back to the store for something more ‘reassuringly expensive’. Danny picks up the can and drinks it while I’m inside (probably).

It’s about 30 minutes and four or five cans later when Danny brings up my ‘life swap’ comment. He wants to spend a night at mine in return for my ‘night at his’. Of course I don’t want Danny in my house under any circumstances, but I’m snookered. Student landlords are used to filthy, disgusting, piss-stinking losers living on their properties after all.

Upon entering my flat (Danny was blindfolded on the way there, a bit like when Batman takes an outsider to the bat-cave) Greg (my flat-mate) and his g/f leave pretty much immediately. I can tell he’s furious. I sigh and ask Danny what he wants to do now. I point out we have some vodka in the fridge and probably a little JD in my flatmate's room. I don’t mention the bottles of Champagne in the cupboard because I’m pretty sure tramps don’t like Champagne. Surprisingly Danny tells me he would like a shower and maybe a cup of char. I ask him what ‘char’ means. Crack? Heroin? Ketamine? Ice? He tells me it means ‘tea’ (boring). Luckily the lock doesn’t work in our bathroom and the cleaner is due the next afternoon. I grudgingly agree to the shower idea and he shuffles off.

Returning from his bath after what seems like millennia, Danny tells me he used the blue towel. I laugh and tell him its okay (it’s Greg’s, lol). Danny is also clearly high - he keeps looking around as well; clearly looking for stuff to steal. Either way it’s time to GO!


"Based in zone 1, literally seconds from the high street, right next to Old St tube, bills all inclusive. Unfurnished. It's yours for £0.00 p.c.m."


On the way back to Danny’s ‘home’ I ask him why he doesn’t just sort his life out. Surely he can’t enjoy living among the rats and filth of Old St. Don’t you hate Old St? It’s full of drunken arseholes, puke and piss. Maybe the begging is good but surely there has to be another way?

Danny makes a lot of excuses but the underlying problem is clearly his massive drug-habit. I ask if he’s ever been to rehab like Amy Winehouse, and he says ‘no, no, no’. I laugh, but he doesn’t get the reference. I feel bad for Danny and want to give him some money, but at the same time he’s an old friend and I can’t shake the feeling that he’s going to spend it all on drugs and maybe, possibly, overdose at my expense.

I really want him to try and sort things out but he seems in too deep. It sucks but there is nothing you can do about it. With the government’s anti-begging initiatives, slowly people are being forced from the streets and into another way. Unfortunately that ‘other way’ as often as not ends up being prostitution, robbery and getting raped and murdered which isn’t really a lot of fun (so I’ve heard).

I bid goodbye to Danny without being able to help him. I’ll remember him as I’m warm in bed tonight, still out there facing the elements. I give him a number to call me on "if he ever needs anything", although I secretly hope he won’t call it. I go home wondering what I’ve learned from this experience. Maybe it’s that drugs are bad. Maybe it’s that hyper-capitalism is out of control and inevitably leads to human suffering on a massive scale. A bearded man lies, hand outstretched, at exit 5. I walk by without giving him anything. And for the first time ever I don’t feel too bad about it. Sure maybe a little, but I did the right thing imo tbh.

If you would like to know more about living on the streets feel free to come down to Old St and stay there forever like so many others do. Don't forget to bring your dogs! (all of them).

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