Homeless people disguised as stranded tourists sleep on Heathrow's benches

Homeless people flock to London's Heathrow airport by the dozen, camouflaging themselves with Hawai'ian shirts and bum-bags and pretending to be stranded tourists so that they can sleep a warm night on an airport bench:
When TIME joined the outreach worker and police officers this week, the homeless people contacted included a man sleeping under his coat, another conspicuously hiding behind an open newspaper, and a woman clutching a duty free bag who insisted she was waiting for a flight, only to whisper when police were out of earshot: "I can't afford electricity; it's warm here; please, let me stay."

These men and women may seem to embody the English tradition of the plucky Dickensian Dodger, but it would be wrong to mistake their ingenuity for anything other than desperation, social workers say. Like those to whom the travel ads all around the airport appeal, Heathrow's homeless are also in search of escape: from debts, legal problems, family responsibilities. They often have mental health or substance abuse problems, and they often refuse help. During the day, some travel by public transport into London to beg, busk or take drugs, while others remain in the airport, sometimes scrounging food off sympathetic restaurant and cafe workers.

Link (Thanks, Marilyn!)


  1. I thought the same. The apparent demonisation of homeless people (eg they’re ‘running away from debts, legal problems, family responsibilities’, not to mention insane and drug users) was a fairly obvious clue. And I’m not sure what sort of outreach worker travels with journalists and police.

    I have no doubt that some homeless people would hang around at Heathrow. And I’m sure some of them can be really scary. But all this article is going to do is make the police push them somewhere else where rich(er) people don’t have to look at them.

    Problem fixed!

  2. I don’t know if this was an April Fools joke or not. What I do know is that it made me cry.

    I really….really hope that this was not a joke, because if it was, it’s pretty much the #@*%iest one Boing Boing could have come up with, especially since I usually consider the BB folks to be pretty nice guys.

  3. Seeing as the article is from 20 March and Time magazine, I don’t think it’s a joke.

  4. It was on Channel 4 News (or was it Newsnight?) a couple of weeks ago. They referenced the Tom Hanks movie The Terminal rather than Dickens, though.

  5. There’s a kid’s book out there, picture-book age, about a homeless boy who lives with his father at the airport.

    It’s very sad.

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  7. There was a man living at Gatwick who claimed to be living there since the 80’s.

    Delaney came to the attention of police at Gatwick when he was arrested with his briefcase of chef’s knives but says he wasn’t the only one avoiding the law.

    He said: There’s a whole little community in there.

    “I know one guy who was there for eight years straight.

    “There’s another guy, Gary, who’s a pensioner in his 60s.

    “He’s very well dressed, always looks very distinguished.

    “You can see these people a mile off. In the summer there’s about 30 of them.

  8. The headline for this story should be changed to:

    “NEWSFLASH! Homeless people aren’t stupid!”

    What do people expect? That they’re going to advertise that they’re homeless? Unbelievable. This article really has an entire “Gee Whiz they’re tricky buggers” attitude.

  9. I slept in bus, train, and airport terminals when I was “homeless” as a voluntary bum.

    The difference is, I did it in New Zealand. The only harassment I received was from helpful, friendly passengers awakening me every hour or so to let me know “my” bus/train/flight was leaving. This was actually a much greater deterrent to trying to squat these locations than having cops around!

    It’s interesting and kind of sad to think that the reason people can get away with sleeping at Heathrow is because nobody cares enough to pay attention to them. It’s often the same reason they’re in such a bad situation in the first place.

  10. I haven’t been to the Boston Public Library in years, but during the winter you couldn’t use the bathrooms there (with the exception of the urinals) because when it was cold out the homeless would drop their pants and sit on the toilets, for hours. So the BPL removed the doors on all the stalls, but that still didn’t stop them from sitting there all day.

  11. I’m I the only one who read the title as
    “Homeless people *disgusted* as stranded tourists sleep on Heathrow’s benches.”

    I thought it was another story about the mess in the new terminal. :-)

  12. In India people just sleep on the train platforms. Nobody’s pretending anything. It’s just the way it is. If your train is very early or very late, you’d better be sure-footed.

  13. so? move the planes to an airport that functions and Heathrow can finally serve a purpose as a shelter for the needy

  14. Me thinks the problem is not that they are blending in too well amongst the passengers. The problem is some of them are not blending in well enough.

    What is that that passengers (ie customers) dislike about the homeless? Some of them are very dirty and smelly. You’re afraid that if they sit next to you, the smell will stick on you till you get off the plane and check into the hotel on the other side of the world 12 hours later.

    To solution is not to figure out ways to detect every single homeless person and remove them from the airport. The solution is to help them blend in further. Obviously some of them are doing this well enough on their own. They should be given a pat on the back, and be left alone. But some others may need a bit of help in “blending in”. Every effort should be directed towards this end.

    Broadway should not only be focused on coaxing them to leave the airport. The airport can help by giving outreach organizations like Broadway a small free office at the airport itself. This should not be in the high traffic areas, but perhaps in one of the more secluded places that is nevertheless easily reached. There should be public bathrooms which will help the homeless keep clean, and also serve airline passengers who are sometimes stuck for hours, perhaps just coming off a 6 hour connecting flight. I’m sure many will welcome the opportunity to take a shower.

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