What It’s Like to be a Rough Sleeper in London

Memories of life on the streets

Craig McWha
5 min readMay 16, 2022


Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

The human brain is a wonderful thing. My brain has allowed me to shut out some traumatic memories of my time on the streets. This self-defence mechanism has allowed me to move on with my life. It is 9 years since I last slept rough, and after the passage of time, I am able to reflect on my experiences without feeling overwhelmed.

The current cost of living crisis has led me to ponder my time as a rough sleeper. I feel it is important to share my thoughts here. Ignoring human suffering is not an option. If no solution can be found to this crisis, many more people will experience rough sleeping. This must not be allowed to happen. This is (some) of my story.

People will make assumptions about you

When you are sleeping rough, many folks will make assumptions about you. They will assume you drink or do drugs. They will assume you are a dangerous, crazy person. Not only that, but they will avoid eye contact in case you ask for money or hurl abuse.

Remember, it’s not personal. These assumptions are reinforced through media misrepresentation. That won’t make it easier for you, though.

I avoided people where possible. I felt ashamed and worthless. Furthermore, I didn’t need confirmation from strangers about my worth (or lack of it.)

The smallest kindest makes the most considerable difference

In a world turned to shit, it is the smallest gestures that count. There are some absolute diamonds out there who genuinely want to make a positive difference in the world.

Take for example the students I met in Waterloo. These were a group of friends with no affiliation to any charity. They just wanted to do some good. They’d walk around with big flasks of coffee and bags of hot food from Greggs to give out to rough sleepers. How bloody lovely is that? So, the next time you feel like sounding off about how rubbish Millennials or Gen Z are, I suggest you wind your neck in and look at yourself instead. These kids gave me a morale boost at a time when I was in despair. I can never thank them, or people like them, enough.



Craig McWha

Former rough sleeper, UK RAF veteran, graduate. Interested in society and social issues. A growing interest in tech stuff and Cyber Security.