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‘It doesn’t have to be like this’ – surge in Westminster homeless deaths

Fresh calls for action as St Martin’s hosts moving service for capital’s 129 victims

22 November, 2019 — By Tom Foot

Poignant reminders of the need for shelter at the annual commemoration service at St Martin-in-the-Fields. Picture Mark Reynolds

TRIBUTES have been paid at a special remembrance service to homeless people who died in ­London in the past year.

The annual event in St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, remembered Nick Shemmings, who sat outside the Adelphi Theatre with his dog Bear for 15 years.

Believed to have been 48, he was popular with staff at the West End theatre on the Strand who left flowers and candles at his spot.

Friends paid tribute to Mark Anthony Borrett, a Big Issue seller known as “Sparky” who was found dead in his sleeping bag in May in Regent’s Park by police.

Nick Shemmings

He was one of the founders of celebrated project Streets Kitchen, which helps the city’s homeless.

It is believed 17 homeless people died in Westminster in 2018. The figure is up from seven the previous year.

The average life expectancy of a rough sleeper in this country is just 44 years for men and 42 for women – 30 years less than the general population.

Kathy Mohan, chief executive of Housing Justice which helps organise the annual service, said: “This is such a poignant service, both as a memorial to those who have passed, but also as a reaffirming of the determination of those working with people experiencing homelessness that no person should die without a home in 21st-century Britain.”

Mark Anthony Borrett

A report by the Greater London Authority and St Mungo’s charity said there were an estimated 1,097 rough sleepers in Westminster counted between July and September this year, which is up 261 on the same time last year.

In total, 87 per cent of new rough sleepers were seen just once and had “no second night out”.

The service remembered the 129 people who died homeless in London in the year. Their names were read out in the church.

Jon Glackin, who founded homeless project Streets Kitchen, said of the service: “We sadly gathered to remember those who have passed away before their time due to the simple lack of somewhere permanent and safe to rest or live in.

“We take comfort that so many attended the service in solidarity to honour far too many people.

“It doesn’t have to be like this.”

Pam Orchard, chief executive of The Connection, which is based next to the church and helps the homeless, said: “It’s incredibly important that we take time to remember and honour those who have died on the streets and this service provides the opportunity to do that.

Service at St Martin-in-the-Fields

“It is appalling that homeless people die in today’s Britain.

“Having a safe and secure home is a basic human need, and yet is something that far too many people are going without.

“This service acts as a reminder of the scale of that work that must still be done to ensure that all homeless people are supported on their journey towards recovery.”

A Westminster Council spokesman said: “The sad fact is that the rate of deaths linked to rough sleeping is rising as we continue to see ever-increasing numbers of people arriving on the streets in Westminster… we saw eight deaths on the streets while others happened in other accommodation as the effects of rough sleeping and drug/ alcohol addiction and poor health took their toll.

“All are individual tragedies. Westminster City Council spends more than any other authority, nearly £7million a year, on helping rough sleepers and we have a good record in helping people away from rough sleeping.

“But the difficult reality is around 300 people are likely to be on the streets of Westminster tonight and that figure is going up.

“Living on the streets is a dangerous lifestyle and we continue to work with all our partners, including The Connection at St Martin’s, to do all we can to support people into sustainable routes off of the streets.”


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