Housing

A McDonald's security guard soaking a homeless man's blanket exemplifies stigma rough sleepers face

Aaron McCarthy said he was ‘disgusted’ after the incident went viral on social media. It’s the latest episode in a winter that has demonstrated the perils of street homelessness

Homeless man argues with security guard mopping floor outside McDonald's restaurant in London

Footage of the McDonald's security guard soaking the homeless man's blankets has sparked fury. Image: Damon Evans / X

A viral video showing a McDonald’s security guard soaking a homeless man’s blankets in water and bleach has sparked outrage and calls for greater protections for people on the streets.

The fast food chain has apologised and sacked the security guards following the incident outside a brand of Nationwide building society next door to the McDonald’s restaurant on Victoria Street, central London, after 10pm on Saturday (December 9).

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Footage of the incident showed a furious row between the man experiencing homelessness, named as 25-year-old Aaron McCarthy by The Telegraph, and the security guards.

McCarthy can be heard calling to be left alone in the footage, which has been shared more than 13,000 times on X, formerly known as Twitter, while passers-by come to his aid.

Damon Evans, who filmed the incident and shared it on social media, said to McDonald’s: “Do you think it is acceptable for your staff to soak the sleeping bags of homeless people in the middle of winter or any other time of the year? Disgusting behaviour. He wasn’t even outside your premises.”

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Speaking after the incident, McCarthy said he “wasn’t causing a nuisance” and the row escalated after the security guards claimed he became aggressive.

“I told them I was outside the bank, not McDonald’s and so I had nothing to do with them,” he said. But then one of them came out with a bucket of water with bleach in it – I could smell it. The guy started mopping the floor and kicking my stuff into the water.

“It was disgusting. I had to leave because it was so stressful and I hardly slept the entire night because my bedding was all soaked. You can still smell the bleach on my blanket.”

A McDonald’s UK spokesperson said: “We are shocked and saddened by this incident. The third party security guards involved have been permanently removed from our restaurants and the restaurant team has been reminded of the importance of treating all people with respect, including vulnerable people both in the restaurant and within the wider community. 

“We would like to wholeheartedly apologise to the gentleman in the video and will work with the council to locate him and make amends as part of our ongoing work to support homelessness charities in and around the area.”

Frontline homelessness services and charities have widely condemned the incident.

Streets Kitchen described the footage as “abhorrent and inhumane”.

”We demand they issue an immediate apology and compensate the individual adequately,” the grassroots group added.

Shelter chief executive Polly Neate said: “Dehumanising homeless people is dangerous. Life on the streets is perilous, which is why rough sleepers’ life expectancy is barely half the average – and why our Shelter⁩ manifesto calls for emergency accommodation for anyone at risk of the streets.”

Matt Downie, chief executive of Crisis, called on McDonald’s to offer individual support to McCarthy and consider offering him a job to help out of his position on the street rather than punishing him.

“This is yet another appalling episode of people being mistreated when homeless. It has got to stop,” said Downie.

“If McDonald’s would like to genuinely help people, we would be pleased to speak to them about staff training and the many ways they could help tackle homelessness.”

The row is the latest incident to put the stigma and discrimination faced by people sleeping rough on the streets in the spotlight.

Suella Braverman was sacked as home secretary last month after her widely criticised comments describing street homelessness as a “lifestyle choice”.

Just days later, Streets Kitchen filmed footage of rough sleepers’ tents being destroyed in Camden which led to a furious reaction on social media.

The Criminal Justice Bill, which is currently making its way through parliament, is set to replace the Vagrancy Act – a 200-year-old law that criminalises rough sleeping and begging.

But the new legislation has come under fire for bringing in new measures to crackdown on “nuisance rough sleeping” including fines and even the possibility of a prison sentence for blocking pavements and doorways.

Homelessness charities and campaigners have argued that authorities need no extra powers to deal with rough sleepers on the streets. 

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