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Opinion

We must work together to prevent homeless deaths on Britain’s streets

Hugo Sugg has been campaigning for four years to investigate and uncover the circumstances behind rough sleeping deaths in Worcestershire. Last month a council Safeguarding Adults report gave him the answers he craved. Now he wants to turn that milestone into nationwide change

All too often we look athomelessness through small lenses, to try and tackle the immediate problem in front of us. This lens often gets misty as professionals and the public can often lose sight of the bigger picture.

As we found out inMaeve McCleneghan’s book No Fixed Abode, people who are homeless are dying across the UK at very alarming rates. What is also evident, is there are few investigations into these deaths to help us improve services and the environment.

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I’m an activist and someone who has previous experience of homelessness in 2008. I started a small campaign in 2015 on the back of writing about my own experiences and in October 2016, it took a new life in the form of the “Justice For Cardon” campaign. This year, the Cardon Banfield Foundation was launched and is set to turn into a charity in 2021.

It’s difficult for organisations to admit they have made mistakes however if we are going to stop deaths on our streets from happening – then organisations need to wake up extremely quickly

Cardon Banfield, mentioned in Maeve’s book, was 74 years old when he was found decomposed and partially mummified in a tent on the banks of the River Severn in Worcester on July 5 2016.

I knew Cardon personally in 2014 when he lived at the YMCA in Worcester. Three months before his death, the countywide comprehensive outreach service was cut back by the local authority. This had a catastrophic impact on the homelessness community.

In November 2016, I lodged a request for a Safeguarding Adults Review (SAR) intoCardon’s death but it was rejected that December. According to the Adult Safeguarding Board, he was “not known to services”. After collecting relevant data through Freedom of Information requests to Worcester City Council, I lodged another request for a review in late 2017. This got rejected again, and the appeal got thrown out.

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After Cardon, between 2016 and 2019, four more rough sleepers died in Worcestershire.

With pressure increasing on the City Council from Healthwatch Worcestershire and myself, the Authority undertook an independent review. I had huge concerns with this review because I felt it didn’t tackle the core issues.

In 2018, there were two rough sleeping deaths in the Malvern Hills District Council area within three months of each other. One person was found on Christmas Day. These were referred to the Adult Safeguarding Board and a SAR was commissioned. The scope of this SAR initially covered just those deaths, however I felt the decision not to include the other humans that had lost their lives was indefensible. Cardon’s independent review was included.

Last month, the SAR report was finally published. It is extensive. 

Where services like the county-wide database of rough sleepers and the outreach service had been cut back in the preceding years, the report encourages more collaborative thinking as a way to move forward in Worcestershire and prevent others from dying in the ways these men did.

What I wanted, in terms of an investigation, was granted for the most part. 

This SAR was one of few carried out across the country but it carries the symbolism of what we should not do: ignore the unfortunate.

Now the work carries on to make sure the three essential foundations to support people who are homeless are there: A database, a homeless forum and a long-term strategy and blueprint of services.

It’s difficult for some organisations to admit they have made mistakes but if we are going to stop deaths on our streets from happening then those organisations need to wake up extremely quickly.

I encourage everyone who reads this article to go tocardonbanfield.org/wtr and look at the Safeguarding Review.

The Cardon Banfield Foundation wants to help carry the lessons we have learned across the UK and help organisations undertake reviews into rough sleeper deaths. By working with them on a local level, we aim to show that investigations are a help not a hindrance to service design and can bring a lot of peace and answers to those suffering.

The “Worcester Model” needs to be perfected, but the work across the country starts now

Worcestershire has hit a critical moment in its relationship with rough sleepers and homelessness. The legacy of six rough sleeper deaths (one more died during the Covid-19 pandemic whilst accommodated) in four years must now be turned into a positive – and that’s for there to be a county blueprint of homelessness services and to design, build and demonstrate a “Worcester Model” which can be used anywhere in the UK.

I was once a thorn in the side of Worcestershire’s homelessness sector, but through the Cardon Banfield Foundation I aim to rebuild a relationship which doesn’t benefit organisations for organisations’ sake – instead for the individuals who have little or no voice and carry the risk of dying on our streets.

The “Worcester Model” needs to be perfected, but the work across the country starts now. No person deserves to be left without a legacy, and no rough sleeper should be left without support.

The Foundation wants to work with you. Reach out to us on our websitewww.cardonbanfield.org and read more about what we do.

Safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility – including yours.

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