Homeless veteran begs for shelter outside homeless charity’s multi-million pound headquarters

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A down-on-his-luck man has spent years begging strangers to ‘give me shelter’ while sleeping rough on a street – opposite the headquarters of Britain’s biggest homeless charity.

Army veteran Tony Richards has built himself a makeshift camp on the cold street opposite the posh London headquarters of Shelter, a charity who work to help the homeless.

The 67-year-old used to play chess with passers by to while away the hours on the street, but bullies broke his beloved set last weekend as he slept.

Tony has slept rough in London for 28 years, and has spent the last three years on a bench directly across the road from Shelter’s head office.

He spends almost every day on a bench opposite the charity’s multi-million pound, glass-clad headquarters challenging passers-by to games of chess – and for a time had a camp bed set up before police told him to move it, he claims.

Tony said: “Every day it hurts that I wake up opposite a huge homeless charity, and know they won’t help me.

“Shelter are useless, they really are bloody useless.

“If you’re 25 they will get you a place but when you get to my age they won’t help you.

“It’s a shame really because they say they will help anybody – but they won’t.

“Occasionally somebody will come over and have a game of chess – and occasionally bring me a cup of tea – but they close their eyes to my needs.

“I live in hope that they notice I need help.”

He is so entrenched in his little encampment opposite the headquarters, he has duvets and blankets – and even a camp bed.

In winter Tony lives in a tent in a doorway a hundred yards away from Shelter’s headquarters.

Tony woke up on Sunday morning to find his chess board smashed on the street next to him – and believes thugs destroyed the game while he slept.

He said: “I was asleep and I woke up and it was gone.

“I don’t know what happened – some bullies must have come along and smashed it.

“I’m feeling dead. As soon as I get the money I’m going to buy another.”

Tony would play hundreds of games of chess every week, challenging passers-by at his small camp in Old Street, one of the capital’s most well-known roads.

He said the ancient board game is his only ‘escape’ from life on the streets.

Tony said: “I have got loads of people who come to play chess with me. It’s nice.

“I’ve got two Chinese girls, an Italian lad, a Spanish lad.

“They all want to come and take me on.”

Tony, originally from Coventry, says he served in the Armed Forces and worked on fishing trawlers in Scandinavia before he ended up on the streets.

As a soldier Tony spent seven years based in Berlin while serving with the Coldstream Guards.

He joined the army aged about 20, in the late 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, and said his main role was peacekeeping in the city, which was left divided following World War Two.

He said: “It was to stop the arguments between England and the Germans, because at that time we had big arguments, they were blowing everyone up.

“It was not a good time.”

After leaving the army he worked as a fisherman on trawlers across the globe before moving to Hackney Wick in east London to look after his sick uncle – then becoming homeless.

He added: “I used to work on the fishing trawlers in Iceland, Scandinavia, Nova Scotia – we used to go wherever the fish were. I’m talking 30 years ago.

“My uncle, he got cancer and I moved in with him to look after him and then he died. He didn’t last long – about six months.

“When he died I went to the council but they turned around and said, your name isn’t on the register.

“I said obviously, it’s not my flat, and they said all we can offer you is a hostel.

“I said no, bought myself a new rucksack, a new sleeping bag, new tent and said bye.

“That was 28 years ago. I’ve been on and off the streets ever since.

“I try to keep my chin up. It’s been quite tough. I have had days without anything to eat or drink.

“You will look for a bottle of water everywhere, but you can’t get one – that’s when you’re desperate.”

He added: “Chess is an escape, it keeps my mind active, because when you play chess you’re thinking of your move, their move, your counteractive moves and their counteractive moves.

“You’re thinking four games in one.

“Without chess, it would be boring, it really would, because what else are you going to do?

“I will probably still be sleeping here when I die.”

Tony, who has been married once 40 years ago, also has a radio for entertainment – and a mobile phone which he admits he’s never used.

Homeless charity Shelter said there is ‘nothing they can do’ to help a 67-year-old living on the streets outside their head office.

The charity said Tony Richards has been offered help but claim he told them he is happy where he is.

Alison Mohammed, Director of Services at Shelter, said: “Shelter is well aware of the gentleman sleeping on Old Street and our London team has been to speak with him on a number of occasions throughout 2016 and 2017.

“On every occasion, we have offered advice and to help him access any services he is entitled to such as supported housing.

“However, he has refused the help saying he is happy to remain where he is.

“There is therefore nothing more we can do at this stage other than respect his wishes and keep checking in with him in case his situation changes.

“Shelter does not only offer support to under-25s, our advice is offered to anyone of any age, anywhere in the country.”

source; The London Economic

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  1. I was homeless for 5 years in the 90s

    Shelter do nothing
    The advice they offer is basically go to the council and speak to the CAB

  2. If Tony had accepted the offer of a hostel in the first place it would not have been long until he was then offered a social housing flat but he refused this. People just can’t just walk in to flats when they feel like it.

    • Do you know how long it can take to get off the streets in London…..or any major city for that matter.
      From experience I can tell you,moving through the system is incredibly slow and hostels only allow an alloted amount of time in them…
      When I was homeless in London a number of years ago….I was in 7 hostels over the course of 6 months before I found a spot in a hostel where I could stay long term…which I did for almost 2 and a half years. Before I was offered a small studio flat.
      So from first venturing into the day centre to opening the door on that flat it was 3 years and 7 months…..that was considered quick.

  3. What justification do shelter claim for having a multi million pound building? I thought the money I and thousands of people have donated was to benefit homeless and disadvantaged people. Like many other charities they appear to have become a big business rather than a “Charity “.

  4. why should they have a multi million pound office money donated should be to help the homeless a lot of the work can be done online now so don’t need fancy offices they should be dedicating the money for deposits for houses if need be

  5. This is an unfair piece of reporting. Only at the end do we get the truth about him refusing help from Shelter and telling them he’s happy where he is. Meantime a charity that works hard for homeless people gets unfairly slagged off. Fake news.

  6. This makes me mad ex vertrons need help and no one will help makes me mad has nothing is being done for the ex vertrons lucky Barnsley is opening a centre to help them get them of the streets

  7. Having worked with people sleeping rough a lot with not go into hostels because of issues… such as violence etc.

    They are more in control on the streets.

    But there are way too many of the big charities who have very expensive offices, vehicles, huge pay packets for those at the top… they say they need these to attract the best (the bankers said that aswell) who often have charities that people will always give to, so you have to ask what they actually do..

    I help with smaller charities and will not buy items from the big ones as the small print often shows a tiny fraction actually goes where you expect it to go,in part because items carry the name but it belongs to a company and NOT the charity arm. Very underhand… check the small print.

    I will see if we can catch up with Tony and hear from the horses mouth.

  8. Can also contact SSAFA and British legion for help to get essentials if he can find somewhere to live.Good luck x

  9. Another good charity is veterans off the streets, all the above charities and organisations that deal with veterans are the only ones that will help him and help they will believe me. Please pass this vital information along with local contact details so he can contact them. The British legion should have a local drop in center that he can go too for help.

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