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‘People care for five minutes’: homeless man’s death is wake-up call, says charity

Homeless charity says sustained austerity and cuts to vital services is leading to more deaths on the streets

On an unremarkable evening last November, the congregation of St Martin-in-the-Fields on Trafalgar Square listened quietly as the names of 141 people were read out. Each had died that year without a home they could call their own; for many of them, it was the only funeral they had.

Nobody knows yet how many people will have to be memorialised this year. But on Wednesday, another name was added to the list. A Portuguese former model, a lover of singing and yoga, was found dead in Westminster tube station, just a few steps from the underground entrance to the Houses of Parliament. The man, believed to be in his 40s, is one of four rough sleepers to have died in London in the first six weeks of this year.

He had been staying in the emergency night centre at The Connection, a central London homeless charity. He had been there regularly for two months – surpassing the 28-day limit normally imposed by the charity – and was due to move to another shelter. It was in the short gap in between that The Connection’s outreach workers found him dead in Westminster, close to a House of Commons side entrance.

The man, who has not yet been officially named, had “complex circumstances”, the charity said – he had struggled with mental health problems and was known to use alcohol to self medicate. But he had previously been a model and worked in hospitality: the week before his death, he had applied for a job as a waiter.

Cordelia Wise, the deputy manager of the charity’s education, training and employment team who had worked closely with the man, said: “[He was] tall and elegant and striking in appearance. He dreamed of success in the entertainment industry and took great care of his personal appearance. He was really determined – he believed in himself and his potential and was doing what he could to realise his ambitions.”

In the wake of his death, Pam Orchard, the chief executive of The Connection, warned that the Portuguese man was likely to be one of dozens who would die homeless in London this year.

“We’re very keen that people respect that this man was a real person, with strengths and talents who was also having a terrible time,” she said. “But he is also one of a growing number of people who are dying on the streets, and that is very concerning.” 

She said government policies of sustained austerity and cuts to vital services had resulted in a rise in the number of people using the charity’s services. It has a day centre offering showers, laundry, food and help with finding housing and jobs and an emergency night shelter with 45 camp beds.

“When you operate a policy of prolonged austerity, when you cut drug and alcohol services, mental health services, housing services, I’m sorry but you lose the right to be surprised that people are falling through a net where the holes are getting bigger every day,” she said. “That is the reason rough sleeping is increasing so much, and it urgently needs a comprehensive response.”

Rough sleeping in England has increased for seven consecutive years, with official figures showing 4,751 people slept outside overnight in 2017. The number of children in England stuck in hostels and other temporary accommodation has risen to more than 120,000, according to government figures.

Full story can be found in The Guardian


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