BRIAN Bannister is 17 and will get by just fine without Crisis at Christmas, the once-a-year charity group that closes tomorrow, writes Brian Deer. After nine months in London sleeping rough, even the luxuries of an indoor matress and as much hot tea as he can drink have not dented his street resilience.
Bannister left home in Sheffield last spring to find portering work in the south, but has proved to be such an awkward person that he has been unable to find a home. After being banned from Salvation Army and other London hostels, he has slept in doorways, under bridges and on building sites.
He has remained well-fed, spending much of his £29.40-a-week "no fixed abode" social security giro on junk food and chips. Wearing a clean jacket and jumper, he could easily have passed unnoticed yesterday as anybody's teenage son.
His few nights at the temporary Crisis centre in south London, however, were a welcome Christmas break. He suffers from epilepsy, which could be watched over by the centre's volunteers. And its no-alcohol admission policy kept him away from "Jack", a powerful cocktail of cider, milk and methylated spirit he has lately been drawn towards.
But Bannister is not going back onto the streets quietly. Over the last three days, he has been collecting names for a petition which he wants to give in at Downing Street, calling for more houses to be built for the homeless - although centre volunteers tried to ban him from doing so.
"I want to get this through to Mrs Thatcher and Prince Charles," he says, proudly holding up a tatty folded poster on which fellow street people have written their names. "And I want to give it to Bob Geldof and, what-do-you-call-him, Neil Kinnock, as well."
Brian also has a more ambitious plan for when the Crisis centre shuts. Instead of the hundreds of homeless people who have slept there in the last few days meekly dispersing, he wants them to join together, take their mattresses and follow him across the nearby Old Kent Road to renovate and occupy one of the derelict factories he has found.
His effort is unlikely to succeed, but his spirit has won him support. "We think this sort of thing is terrific," says Leighton Andrews, the UK organiser of the 1987 international year of shelter for the homeless. "People doing things for themselves is the message everywhere."