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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jones

Performance Art (or something like it)

Around the corner from the res hall is the fire station for Chelsea. In front of the fire station is Paul. Paul is our resident homeless man, or squatter. In London, as I understand the law, once you secure a living space, you can’t be removed. Squatters have a certain level of rights in London. Sometimes there is a huge house and in one corner on the first floor, there is a family who has been squatting there simply lives along side the family who owns the house.

Anyway, in front of the fire station is Paul. A small man with a big, bushy beard. He has a cot, assorted duvets and comfortors, a suitcase and a lawnchair. Above his home, there is a sign, “Rough Sleepers will be removed.” As I walk by him several times a day, I watch as he hosts guests and chats with other homeless people. He seems to hold court and is never really alone. One day, the National Health Service stopped by to check on his health. If he is not talking to people, he is snuggled into his blankets, sleeping. When he is sleeping, he has repacked everything up close to his cot.

Yesterday I saw a young asian woman walking by with a bag of food from McDonalds. Paul was sleeping. She set the bag down by his feet, at the end of his cot. She started to walk away, then she came back and took the soda out of the bag and set it next to the bag of food. Presentation or maybe wanting to avoid him spilling it on himself. Then she walked away. On my way back from lunch, I watched Rupert wake up and notice the bag of food. He looked in it and then set it aside. He took a drink of the soda and set it on the ground next to his bed.

Today I walked by and saw some people with a whole lot of AV equipment setting up next to him, wierd. Later, on my way back from shopping, they were finished. They had set up a closed circuit TV with a camera aimed at Rupert. The TV was a large, flat screen TV. In front of the TV there is a velvet rope and blocking the sidewalk there is a BMW. Then there are two people walking around in blue jumpsuits.

I am quite sure it is to draw attention to the invisibility of the homeless in London, that some people won’t stop to talk to him until there is a TV monitor and a camera involved. Of course, they’ll say they know all about him and that he is a fixture–which he is.

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