It's very hard work finding out how many homeless people have died on our streets this winter. The media that do report a body discovered in a doorway, an alley or a tent this winter are the small local papers like the Liverpool Echo and not the mainstream media, that in itself is a terrible indictment on our national press.
Hardly surprising though - to do that would highlight what is so wrong with the Conservative ideology of austerity, and would highlight the greed of those who really could make a difference, and make very little difference to their wealth.
It's those people who could stop the poverty of millions that this government serves, and its they who contribute to the Conservative party to implement the system that causes poverty.
Perhaps, though I am in danger of getting into a subject for another time but I hope you keep this in mind. Figures for rough sleeping can never be entirely accurate but my research has revealed a rise of 131% since David Cameron became PM in 2010 and a massive 237% in the last two years.
My hometown of Kings Lynn, Norfolk had just four rough sleepers, and has seen the highest rise in East Anglia to 51. The truth is there, and wherever you live in the UK you would have to be blind not to have noticed the increase in our towns and cities. And yet the media have chosen not to report on it, hoping that somehow we won't notice.
This winter people are dying on our streets, young people. It's not just old men as I used to see occasionally as a child, it's young people living down and out, hungry and cold, desperate and unloved.
In the 70's young teens who ran away from home would gravitate to London but with an estimated 8,000 (a very conservative figure) living on the streets of London, dozens of other towns and cities are seeing homeless kids as young as 16 with no hope other than to get enough food and cash to buy a blanket and some drugs to block out their nightmare.
It's not just the cold that is the danger, nor the alcohol or drugs, but the threat of attack from other homeless people or, and this is much more serious, late night revellers looking to beat someone up.
As a small man in stature I know the cowardly drunks looking to give someone a kicking and looking for an easy target all too well, and it was one of the reasons I was never one to get drunk on a night out - as small as I was I could move a lot quicker than some drunken knuckle dragger sober, and I would get the upper hand.
But for a homeless person sleeping getting a boot to the head is something entirely different (and says something about the mentality of those who would attack someone already down and out, being drunk is no excuse either).
Just trying to get a handle on numbers that have died on our streets this winter, I came up with a surprising three deaths in Milton Keynes - the youngest being 29 years old. Another three in Liverpool City Centre and one in Birmingham. So that's seven in total in just three cities. I searched London and could not find any attributed just to winter, but a total of nineteen in 2015.
The fact that it is so difficult to collate figures could be passed off as it being too early, but as I said earlier, the media are just not reporting deaths due to homelessness unless it's murder. What is interesting though is that the Office for National Statistics had this to say when a query was made to the department about homeless mortality.....
'The mortality statistics we produce come from information collected at death registration. We code all conditions certified on the death certificate using the classification structure in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) published by the World Health Organisation. From all of these conditions an underlying cause of death is selected using ICD coding rules. The underlying cause of death is defined as the disease or injury that initiated the train of morbid events directly leading to death. By definition, homelessness cannot be selected as a cause of death or used in mortality coding, so we are unable to provide you with statistics on those who have died due to being homeless.'
It seems that homelessness cannot be selected as a cause of death yet as a University of Sheffield study and a report by homelessness charity Crisis report have both said that homelessness kills, you would think that a coroner could by now code cause of death homelessness. One has to wonder why they cannot.
Councils have to provide Cold Weather Provision (CWP) for the homeless in times of extreme cold. Homeless Link provide a guide to local authorities - their aims state, in brief:
'This guidance is designed to support Local Authorities to provide Severe Weather Emergency Protocol responses in order to prevent deaths of people sleeping rough during winter. It also covers good practice in delivering extended winter provision such as night shelters, and how these can be an opportunity to end people's homelessness. The guidance is accompanied by a report based on last year's survey of SWEP and winter provision, highlighting key data from respondents over the 2015-16 winter period.'
However, having interviewed some of these services, I have found issues that make accessing these provisions somewhat bureaucratic and cumbersome to a lot of homeless people. Firstly, the numbers are growing which makes places limited, a problem in itself. Someone trying to access these services needs to phone - it's likely someone living rough may not have a phone, and call boxes are becoming rarer and are expensive if you have nothing in your pocket.
Most do not have a waiting area where a person can wait to be placed, and supposing they have managed to phone they are then asked for a phone number to be called back on. Crazy, right? But these are the stark realities facing a homeless person and what if they have mental issues which may have been the reason they are on the streets in the first place, mental issues that mean they cannot deal with red tape or everyday paperwork and protocol? A service that should be simple above almost any other simply is not!!
A post by a friend on Facebook told of an experience she had helping a young man who walked into the cafe she owns, I leave this with you copied and pasted in her own words.......
'He was wearing jeans and a thin padded anorak and clutching a MacDonalds coffee cup and a crappy sleeping bag. He had been sitting outside MacD's when a couple of our knitting ladies walked past and met him. They told him to come here and see if we could help. I phoned the out of hours emergency number for housing for him to ask for help while he sat shivering in front of the fire. I got through to them and explained that this man was facing a night sleeping out there and asked for their advice, they asked to speak to him and I gave him the phone....he gave his name, date of birth and NI number, but then we hit a wall because they wanted his contact number.....he doesn't have a phone, so he explained that he couldn't give one.....and that's where the wheels fell off....
He was patently struggling, so he gave me the phone back and I explained again that he doesn't have a phone - the guy is HOMELESS......the woman on the phone said that without a contact number there was nothing they could do and that he needed to find a friend who would let him use their number....he says he has no friends.....she said that they have to do an assessment from their unit at Gibson Terrace before they can help and that you have to wait your turn as they already had a couple of referrals before him.
I said I would let him wait here but could they tell me how long it would be likely to be.....nope, no idea, could be hours......from there the conversation became a farce.... So can he come to Gibson and at least wait in shelter till it is his turn? Absolutely not! So it's snowing out there and he's not clothed to survive it.....is there nowhere in Tameside that he can at least go and sit in shelter from the weather while he does wait? No - no service of that sort exists.
So if he feels like he is going to freeze to death out there, what is he supposed to do? Well, he can go to the police station and ask them to let him sit there... Is there nothing else you can suggest? I am not suggesting anything - your friend said he could go to a phone box and wait there for a call back. He's not my friend, I've never met him before tonight, but he's a human being and it's snowing out there... I'm aware it's snowing, I AM in Tameside too.....
In that case, can I have your name, because if he goes out there tonight after we have asked for help and you can't suggest anything, I will scream about this to our MP, the press and anyone else who will listen.... The answer to that was that I could have her name, but that she would be e-mailing her manager and homeless services about it, then she didn't give me her name anyway.....
At this point, Kane went into a panic attack and bolted. He ran back out into a blizzard wearing inappropriate clothes and because he doesn't have a phone, he can't get any help even though legally with Cold Weather Provision in place tonight, he has to be given shelter. After I called, Gemma had a try and got no further than I did. HOMELESS PEOPLE DON'T ALWAYS HAVE PHONES, HOMELESS PEOPLE CAN'T NECESSARILY AFFORD CREDIT TO MAKE THE CALL ANYWAY.... EVEN IF HOMELESS PEOPLE HAVE A PHONE AND CREDIT....WHERE ARE THEY SUPPOSED TO CHARGE THE PHONE???
We found Kane again - he was back outside MacDonalds and back shivering in the snow.....he cried and told me he wanted to just lie down, give up and never wake up....I phoned The Sanctuary and they were wonderful, I phoned Gemma and she has promised help too and he's now on his way to A&E for help and he is coming back to me tomorrow so that we can go and see Infinity Initiatives and get him to Impact for food and advice.
He has left here tonight wearing a new thermal hat, thermal gloves, a scarf, a BIG jumper and with thermal socks and he has promised that he is not giving up and that he WILL be back tomorrow - he gave me such a huge hug and thanked us all for giving a shit.....and he has asked for a big fat bacon butty when he meets me back here tomorrow. He has promised that he is not giving up and we won't give up on him either.
He's getting that emergency help tonight from the hospital, but why in the name of God do we have Cold Weather Provision in place if people cannot access it - and if he hadn't come here tonight and he had just lain down and died in the snow, what good would CWP have been?
We need a place where they can go to sit it out and wait for help - I appreciate that people have to be assessed, I know that there isn't a magic wand to create beds for the night, but if there are already staff there to take the calls and do the assessments, why can't there be a hub or waiting room where human beings can sit in shelter while they wait?
Even if it's just on the nights like tonight where people will die freezing and alone..... Angela Rayner, who do we have to scream to for help? The system doesn't work and more people are going to die out there this winter. Tomorrow that man WILL get his bacon butty and tonight I WILL be feeling guilty for having a roof over my head..... Had enough now - but tomorrow, we will try our best to find this man help, whether he has a phone number or not!'