Every gay sauna in London that opens overnight says that the housing crisis in London is so bad that men are sleeping there to avoid being on the street.
On a side street in Soho, the middle of the London LGBT scene – Sweatbox sauna has both communal areas and private booths with mattresses. Because Sweatbox is right in the center of London there are zero places to stay for the £17 sauna entry fee.
Owner, Mark Ford is trying to help gay men that are victims to the housing crisis, but he also has to observe the restrictions that apply to his business. He says,
“None of us can actually fix this problem on our own. We can’t supply them a home, but at the same time we don’t want to chuck them out on the street. Any of us can only do so much.
We had a period when we would get itinerant workers – non-gay guys coming over from Eastern Europe and wherever else – who were coming to London to work and they found out about this amazing place on the cheap.
There was a point at which a Polish guy who was very sweet … at one point we had to say,
‘You cannot live here.’
I’m not licensed as a hotel or as accommodation in any other way, so there are legal requirements.“
The man getting his mail delivered to the sauna was the last straw.
“There are still people who stay for eight hours and on the dot they leave. They take their belongings with them.
There are times when we know that somebody is effectively living there – they don’t have any other home. What we’ve done in the past is to say, ‘This can’t go on forever, so be on notice that you need to do something about this but we’re not going to immediately throw you out.’ They have to know they’re on borrowed time.”
A 27-year-old gay former homeless man, Denholm Spurr said that Sweatbox was often a lifeline,
“If I had the money to pay one entry that was enough for me for four days. They eventually brought in a system where if you stayed past midnight then they would charge you, but for many years Monday nights were fine because I knew I had somewhere to stay.”
To avoid sleeping on the street Spurr would spend a few nights on a friend’s sofa, a night with someone he met on Grindr, a couple of nights at a sauna. Then repeat.
Mark Ford says that he wants to do more just managing the overspill from the housing crisis. He’d like to help gay men find accommodations and find each other.
“My dream is to open a more community-based business. What I see in twentysomethings is those that end up in a gay flat-share get through life much better – you need a support network when you’re gay and [with gay] flatmates you’re launched into a community.
The real heart of it is loneliness, isolation. I think a lot of these kids wouldn’t be homeless if they hadn’t fallen through the cracks and gone down a path from which they couldn’t return.”
Some names in this story have been changed. For more read the full story here.
(Photos, Sweatbox; via BuzzFeedNews)