Special report: One homeless person dies every five weeks in Northampton

Mourners gathered at a candlelit vigil in Northampton this to mark the passing of homeless people in the town.
Mourners gathered at a candlelit vigil in Northampton this to mark the passing of homeless people in the town.

During a week in which mourners gathered to remember the lives of lost homeless people in the town, a new report revealed how one rough sleeper is dying every five weeks in Northampton.

But experts say the findings by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the University College London show almost all could be prevented with early intervention.

Northampton mayor Tony Ansell was among those paying tribute.

Northampton mayor Tony Ansell was among those paying tribute.

Since October 2017, 16 people known to have been homeless have died in Northampton, the report shows.

The youngest was 22, the oldest, just 61.

Nationally the Bureau’s findings show that - despite the perceived wisdom - most people did not die from hypothermia or from drug overdoses as a result of street sleeping.

In fact illness, such as underlying heart conditions, tuberculosis, or pneumonia were found to be the main cause.

Hope Centre CEO Robin Burgess.

Hope Centre CEO Robin Burgess.

A third of which were conditions the Bureau says could have been treated with the right medical care.

And the findings for Northampton paint a similar picture. Only one person was known to have died from a suspected overdose.

Of the ten people in the report where the cause of death was recorded, eight lost their lives through illness.

Among them, a 37-year-old woman died of pneumonia during last year’s heatwave.

Rob Aldridge, lead academic on the University College London team that compiled the report, said councils around the land had to work harder to identify those at risk of serious illness.

“Our research highlights a failure of the health system to care for this vulnerable group in a timely and appropriate manner,” he said. “We need to identify homeless individuals at risk earlier and develop models of care that enable them to engage with interventions proven to either prevent or improve outcomes for early onset chronic disease.”

The Hope Centre, a Northampton charity that provides day services for the homeless, has logged 24 deaths since July 2017.

Chief executive of the Hope Centre Robin Burgess, believes that overdoses accounted for a greater proportion of deaths here in Northampton in slight contrast to the Bureau’s report.

But he agrees that the agencies around town involved in dealing with homelessness simply need to do more to get people into stable accommodation and into healthcare.

Referring to the 24, he said: “All had been homeless, the majority rough sleepers, and some of them were rough sleeping at the time of their deaths.

“Four died in road, car or other accidents; one was murdered, several died directly from overdoses, some from the long-term health consequences of sleeping rough or the homelessness lifestyle.

“Every single death was premature and could have been avoided had they been able to access housing earlier, or received the treatment for their health or addiction problems sooner.”

But earlier this year, outreach workers told the Chronicle and Echo how some people were simply unwilling to engage with health services, drug or alcohol counselling - though many had been offered a spot at the council’s night shelter in St Andrew’s Road.

A long-term rough sleeper told the Chronicle and Echo that more of those on the streets would be willing to do so – ironically it may seem – if there was a ‘wet’ night shelter available – a place where people could drink or take drugs in a safer environment. The council’s night shelter has a no drink and drugs policy, which some believe is restricting the number of people it can help.

“With the night shelter you’ve got be in by this time and then you are chucked out in the morning,” said Vince Coyle, a long-term alcoholic who moved to Northampton from Nottingham.

“From an alcoholic’s point of view that’s a nightmare,” the 46-year-old added.

“I don’t know why this town hasn’t got a wet house. If there was somewhere which had a room where you could go and drink that would be perfect.”

Vince is one of a number of rough sleepers to have refused the offer of the nightshelter.

“The reason we didn’t take them up on the offer is because we don’t want to be dictated to,” he said. “We have a drink and a laugh out here. As long as I’m not wet and cold I don’t mind the cold.”

The Bureau’s report comes hot off the heals of the official Government figures on homeless deaths. In February that report found seven people in unstable accommodation had died in Northampton in 2017, the highest number in the East Midlands.

Councillor Stephen Hibbert, cabinet member for housing and wellbeing at Northampton Borough Council, said: “The borough council’s staff work tirelessly to engage with rough sleepers, not all of whom are willing to confront the root causes of their situation or accept the help on offer.

“We run the Nightshelter, which aims to help rough sleepers get back on their feet, and currently offer an all-weather winter shelter, open every night from 9pm- 7am until the end of March.

The ‘Together we change lives’ strategy also sets out the multi-agency approach to proving coordinated support services for rough sleepers.

“As we regularly point out, rough sleeping, even for short periods, has a detrimental impact on life expectancy and it’s extremely important that everyone does all they can to tackle the issue.

“One of the best ways members of the public can help is by supporting the official charities and organisations in the town who work hard to help rough sleepers. They can also contact our Street Outreach Team or Streetlink if they find someone sleeping rough.”