Candles lit in tribute as figures show 16 homeless deaths in one year

Government urged to work with grassroots groups who see the whole picture

Friday, 26th February 2021 — By Bronwen Weatherby

Candles for homeless who have died

A candle was lit in Trafalgar Square for the 976 homeless known to have died in the UK last year

SIXTEEN homeless ­people died in Camden last year, research has revealed.

The borough had the third-highest deaths out of the 24 London councils which responded to Freedom of Information requests submitted by the Museum of Homelessness (MoH).

The grassroots organisation runs the Dying Homeless Project, which aims to chart the deaths of rough sleepers in more detail than official statistics currently do.

Some boroughs have begun books of condolences and talked about who they were, but Camden is not providing the names of those who died.

The figures include the deaths of people who were living on the streets, “sofa surfing”, and in emergency or temporary accommodation for the homeless.

All those who died in Camden were staying in council-provided temporary accommodation at the time.

“The system really is failing people in the most horrible way”

Jess Turtle, co-founder of MoH said: “Camden has one of the highest numbers of homeless deaths in London but then add to that the fact that all 16 died while in temporary accommodation, including two deaths in Covid-19 emergency hotels, and you have to question whether the ­level of care is there.

“The system really is failing people in the most horrible way. Bear in mind that despite being in the middle of a pandemic, the findings show that less than 3 per cent of the deaths were caused by Covid-19, showing that the ‘Everyone in’ scheme did in fact meet its goal of preventing people from dying of the virus.

“But the emergency hotel accommodation couldn’t compensate for the cuts to welfare, mental health, addiction and housing services made before the pandemic or the disruption caused by it.

A staggering number of people still died and these heartbreaking findings demonstrate the scale of the challenge we face to recover.”

Under the “Everyone in” scheme, homeless people in Camden were given a place to stay in the Britannia Hotel in Belsize Park during the coronavirus crisis.

The scheme was hailed as a success but a council meeting heard last month how the government’s criteria for such support has since been narrowed.

Jess and Matt Turtle, directors of the Museum of Homelessness now run the Dying Homeless Project

Ms Turtle added: “What we need is for the government to stop repackaging old funding commitments as new support and for local authorities to heed this data, and work with grassroots groups to learn from it.”

Campaigners on Monday night lit candles in Trafalgar Square for each person who died while homeless in 2020. The following day, people were encouraged to light a candle from home and post an image of their vigil on social media feeds.

Organisers of Dying Homeless, first begun by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, say its findings show the need for long-term investment in council housing and support services.

Camden’s housing chief Cllr Meric Apak said: “Any death of a homeless person is a tragedy. Where the death occurs in a hostel, a memorial or remembrance ceremony will often be arranged for residents, friends and staff to take part in.

“We are committed to improving the lives of residents affected by homelessness and that is why we commission supported accommodation for vulnerable single homeless people rather than referring people directly into private rented accommodation.”

He added: “It is our aim to end long-term homelessness and to help achieve this we are investing in new council housing through our Community Investment Programme, alongside our ongoing programme of developing new temporary accommodation in Camden to prevent people becoming homeless.”

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “Every death of someone sleeping rough on our streets is a tragedy.

We agree a safe home for all is vital – that’s why we’re providing over £700m this year and £750m next year to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, including delivering 3,300 long-term homes this year.”

The deaths of homeless people often go unreported and lives go uncelebrated.

If you would like to pay tribute to a homeless person who you know has died please get in contact with us at editorial@camden

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