Friday, 9 July 2010

Reboot camp helps London homeless to kick drugs

"C'mon then man, let's get on with it," Hussain chunters, limbering up on tiptoes.

"You'll start running but your mind will tell you to quit, well before your body needs to stop," bellows Ian McClelland, his drill sergeant's voice rasping with parade ground gravel. 

Pigeons then scatter into the Hyde Park air as Hussain and a small gaggle of London's homeless, many of them past and present crack and heroin users, scamper around a sandy track on a punishing 1km sprint. Their intensity and speed attracts the attention of passers-by strolling near the Serpentine lake. 

McClelland, a British Military Fitness instructor, has just put these lads through a severe yet fun army-style fitness test involving stretches, lunges, sprints, press-ups, star jumps and sit-ups (above). "It's not a boot camp but the guys really enjoy getting fit together," says the shaven-headed instructor.

"I'm clean of hard drugs now," says Hussain just a few minutes after romping home first past the post in the sprint. "I think I'd have died without this fitness programme. My health problems are behind me." 

Hussain started running with residents and workers at the King George's Hostel in Westminster shortly after switching from methadone to Subutex, part of his detox from heroin. (Listen to audio interview with Hussain).

"This is better than rehab, which costs thousands. I stopped going out robbing long ago," says Hussain, who still runs with the group. The BMF's fitness scheme for Westminster's homeless hostel residents, many of them current and past heroin and crack users, is now in its third year.

However, I'm told by a hostel worker many of Londoner's homeless crack users are endangered this summer by a growing menace - Tuberculosis (TB). A mobile health screening unit is busier than ever trying to test London's homeless people for TB.

"If you're coughing and spitting up in crack den, you think that's just the effect of the crack," says my source. "But the symptoms of crack not only help to spread TB but also mask TB symptoms." 

Paul Coleman, London, July 2010

Audio interview with Hussain: Paul Coleman. 

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