Via fark.com, there’s a Daily Mail story about how more than 100 homeless people live permanently in London’s Heathrow airport. There’s no clear source for this statistic in the article. Is it the reporter herself, BAA (the company that runs Heathrow), or the charity that works there?
Yes, Heathrow is obviously cleaner and safer than the streets. And, yes, unlike New York and Chicago, London doesn’t have a 24 hour subway system where somebody can sleep in a reasonably warm place all night. A few things, however, bother me about this story:
1) In two days of living at the airport herself, the reporter got ONE person to tell her story and provide a full name. She collects one more first-hand story. If the charity or BAA has ANY evidence of close to 111 people, this just doesn’t jibe. When I worked as a reporter, I wrote a few stories about the homeless myself. Most were willing to talk with me. Given that the story is decently written, I doubt she’s bad at her job and, if she really spent two days in the airport, she’s not lazy either. I think that she simply couldn’t find many people.
2) British police have MORE power than their American counterparts to simply kick the homeless out of places. Like most airports in places that people will always have to visit–New York and Paris come to mind–it’s not as nice or well run as airports in places that rely on attracting visitors (Chicago, Las Vegas, Frankfurt). But certainly someone would want to order the homeless out.
3) Heathrow is a big airport and I haven’t been in large parts of it. That said, best as I remember, most of it is BEHIND security and thus inaccessible to people without tickets. The only location mentioned in the article is the rather grim set of tunnels that connect the airport terminals to the London Underground and commuter/express trains. This is probably a place someone could “bunk up.” But would it really be allowed by the ticket counters? Near shops?
4) The website Sleeping in Airports (a resource for truly cheap travelers) provides one three-year-old review that indicates a significant number of people are sleeping in Heathrow. Mostly, it sounds very inhospitable.
I don’t doubt that a handful of folks live more-or-less permanently in Heathrow or even that, on a given night, as many as 100 homeless may be there. But 100 more-or-less-full-time residents? I don’t buy it.