Croydon: 'I'm on the streets but don't sleep for fear of being attacked'

Shane Dyson and Annemarie McDonagh have been street homeless in Croydon for the last two yearsShane Dyson and Annemarie McDonagh have been street homeless in Croydon for the last two years
Shane Dyson and Annemarie McDonagh have been street homeless in Croydon for the last two years | Facundo Arrizabalaga
Shane Dyson and Annmarie McDonagh have been street homeless for the past two years but are struggling to find accommodation that meets their needs.

Pushing his partner of 27 years along the greyscale boulevards surrounding Wellesley Road, Shane Dyson turns and says: “You do get some nice people, but the problem is that everyone thinks you’re the same if you’re homeless. It’s horrible.”

The 43-year-old added: “We would be happy with even just a room, somewhere to stay at night. I don’t sleep properly because I’m constantly worrying about people coming in and starting on us.”

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When the local democracy reporting service (LDRS) met with Dyson, 43, and his partner, Annmarie McDonagh, 50, they were on their way to find somewhere to shelter from the cold and wet mid-April weather. The couple have been street homeless for the last two years. 

They said that despite their constant efforts and complex disability needs, they feel forgotten and left to fend for themselves every day. Things have not always been like this for them, and their fall into homelessness reveals much about disability access, housing, and crime across the borough. 

Dyson and McDonagh met in Croydon’s Shrublands estate almost 30 years ago, and ever since they have been inseparable. Five years ago, the pair were staying together in McDonagh’s mother’s house in the borough. 

However, when she died, the pair lost their accommodation and began their cycle of intermittent homelessness. Dyson had previously made a living as a satellite installation specialist and handyman but was forced into a full-time carer role when his partner became wheelchair-bound three years ago. 

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Dyson told the LDRS: “She went into hospital with stomach ulcers but it turned out she had blood poisoning and had seven aneurysms in her brain, which meant seven brain operations and keyhole surgery. During the operation, they popped her artery and she lost her leg because of that.”

Shane Dyson and Annemarie McDonagh have been street homeless in Croydon for the last two yearsShane Dyson and Annemarie McDonagh have been street homeless in Croydon for the last two years
Shane Dyson and Annemarie McDonagh have been street homeless in Croydon for the last two years | Facundo Arrizabalaga

A brief ray of hope came in the form of the shared accommodation the pair inhabited on South Croydon’s Dornton Road over two years ago. This property, run by Caridon Property, but leased to them as temporary accommodation by Croydon Council, was adapted for wheelchair accessibility and suited Annmarie’s needs.

However, hopes for a stable future were dashed after the pair returned home from the shops to find they had been locked out of the property and not allowed back in. Furthermore, despite communication with Caridon, the pair have not been able to retrieve their property, which sat on the other side of the locked door.

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Dyson, born in Croydon, told the LDRS: “We just went out for our monthly shop. When we got back, we weren’t able to get anything back as they boarded up the house. Workers came round the day before, we asked them for help installing a curtain rail so they could have told us about the eviction then. It just came out of nowhere, it was a shock. They said to come back and we will let you us but they never did.”

“We were going from Caridon to the council and back and forth. Now the council are even denying that we were tenants there, we can prove we’re tenants. I had my mail going there from my bank account.”

According to Dyson, the pair were never given a reason for their eviction. He told the LDRS how they never had an issue with any other tenants nor received any complaints from the landlord during their five months of staying there. 

However, a spokesperson from Caridon told the LDRS: “It’s important to clarify that while Caridon Property Ltd manages some of the flats in the building, the specific unit in question is leased to the local council for temporary emergency accommodation. The couple mentioned were occupants under a license to occupy with the council as their landlord, not with Caridon Property Ltd.”

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Shane Dyson and Annemarie McDonagh in CroydonShane Dyson and Annemarie McDonagh in Croydon
Shane Dyson and Annemarie McDonagh in Croydon | Facundo Arrizabalaga

The couple have been working with a Croydon-based volunteer named Avril since their eviction two years ago. Avril believes the pair have suffered because of mistakes made by the Council.

Speaking to the LDRS, Avril said: “When I spoke to the adult social workers at the council about Annmarie’s needs I was given, what I would call, the royal run around. One social worker said they were not helping her and the next said they were.

“I have actually got a letter from Caridon, addressed to Sarah Jones MP, saying they don’t know who they are and that they don’t exist on the system. I have been down to the house where they were staying to prove it does exist.”

Avril believes the lack of proper support from either party has helped to perpetuate the situation and believes they still have questions to answer. She asked: “Where are the couple’s clothes, family pictures, TV? This couple has been going into the council all  the time to ask for help, but they get no help.”

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In a statement, Caridon told the LRDS: “The decision to terminate their accommodation was made by the council nearly two years ago, and they were provided with a two-week extension following the cancellation of their placement to allow time to remove their belongings.”

Dyson and McDonough’s needs mean they have since struggled to find accommodation that would often be available. 

“We spoke to a few people in the council about housing and they have said that we have to find the property” said Dyson. “We have got no access to the internet and we’re not good readers and writers. It’s just tough.”

Dyson lost his eye when he was stabbed in the face a number of years ago - just one example of the extreme violence the pair faced whilst sleeping rough. 

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“About two years ago in the subway opposite the tram station, two gangs of boys were fighting with each other when we were asleep in the subway,” he said. “They threw a liquid on me that turned out to be acid, and it paralyzed my left hand.

“Another time I was pushing Annmarie through the alleyway in South Croydon, and because we didn’t come through there quick enough for them they started attacking us with knuckle dusters. I was hit about 40 times for just trying to get my partner out of there.

“Croydon is a very dangerous place. Especially at night, It’s really scary.

“On top of that, all of our stuff keeps getting nicked, we’ve had about five tents nicked in six weeks. You get up to go for a toilet and it just goes; it’s often just other homeless people.”

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Among the personal items frequently stolen are the couple’s IDs, making it impossible for them to collect medication vital for their disabilities. 

Dyson added: “All we’ve got is what we stand in. We will have to go around trying to get some more blankets. Sometimes people buy us a tent.We would be happy with even just a room, somewhere to stay at night. I don’t sleep properly because I’m constantly worrying about people coming in and starting on us.”

Recent data from the Department for Levelling Up  Housing and Communities, in March 2024, estimated 19 people were sleeping rough in Croydon  – down from 31 last year. This count, based on a snapshot of a single night in autumn last year, includes people sleeping outside but does not cover sofa surfers, those in hostels or shelters, or people in traveller sites. Figures are generally considered to be an undercount of the true number.

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Despite their daily battle for food, shelter, medication, and securit,y the pair say they encounter kindness and empathy.

Dyson told the LDRS: “Manners don’t cost nothing, some of these security guards treat you with respect. They know who is who and who causes the trouble. We just try to keep quiet and get through the day the best we can.”

McDonagh, an Irish speaker born in Galway before moving to the UK in the 1980s, remained silent for most of our conversation with the couple. However, when asked about her partner she told the LDRS: “He’s a good one, he’s always been kind to me.”

Croydon Council was approached for comment but failed to respond in time for publication.

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