Walking across Waterloo bridge one evening on my way home from ITN , I realised there was a man walking almost alongside me, muttering in the way alcoholics often do. But when I listened I realised he was actually talking to me.
His clothes were clean and fitted well, but his deeply tanned and lined face, plus the cliché of a strong Glaswegian accent added up toan impression of a homeless man.
He told me "they" kept trying to persuade him to go into a hostel and get treatment for his addiction. He'd be ready soon , he said, but not yet. He was terrified of facing withdrawal but also terrified by the fate of his best mate.
One day last year he and his mate were also walking over Waterloo Bridge. His mate had had a shave and was wearing his best clothes. Suddenly the man leaped up onto the balustrade of the bridge and over into the deep cold water below, where he drowned. They were both in their mid thirties.
Londoners constantly face the dilemma of what to do when passing someone begging on the street. We generally don't give money for fear of feeding an addiction. We sometimes give a sandwich or a warm winter coat.
Today, at the Royal London Hospital, I hope I saw a programme in action that may divert some desperate individuals away from street life and towards a healthier, if not necessarily happier alternative.
The hard part will be persuading them to relinquish the numbing comfort of drink or drugs and also the fellowship of others who understand what it's like to be on the outside.