Two rough sleeper deaths in two weeks spark call for radical change in Redbridge’s rough sleeper strategy

A homeless camp in Ilford Hill. Picture: Aaron Walawalkar

A homeless camp in Ilford Hill. Picture: Aaron Walawalkar - Credit: Archant

The chairman of Redbridge’s Safeguarding Adults Board is calling for a radical change in the approach to preventing rough sleeper deaths in Redbridge - following two deaths in the last two weeks.

John Goldup presented his report on rough sleeper deaths, prompted by widespread coverage of homeless deaths in the Recorder's Redbridge Together campaign last year, to Redbridge Council's health and wellbeing board on Tuesday (June 11).

Between October 2017 and November 2018 there were 10 deaths of individuals sleeping rough in the borough - compared to just one death in 2017, and only eight in the five years from 2013 to 2017.

"The increase in the number of deaths in Redbridge is particularly dramatic," Mr Goldup said.

Five of the 10 people who died were Indian nationals and all of them had very limited contact with statutory health and care services, except for a number of hospital admissions and discharges.

Mr Goldup is now urging all agencies to commit to the establishment of a rough sleeping strategic board, and to the development of a multi-agency strategy.

"This is much wider than adult safeguarding," Mr Goldup said. "Fundamentally, this is an issue of health and wellbeing needs.

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"There are a very significant number of statutory agencies that have a responsibility for the health and wellbeing of this population.

"This evidence shows that these bodies had very little engagement with this population [of rough sleepers], even though the majority of them had a right to have an assessment."

Mr Goldup said the housing and voluntary sectors need to be assisted by other agencies, such as clinical commissioning groups, police and hospital trusts.

He said: "Our conclusion is that while there have been welcome developments - the council has adopted the homelessness strategy, which is ambitious and concrete - but the traditional view in the world that this is an issue for housing and voluntary is not right.

"This all starts with very committed people in housing coming together with very committed people in the voluntary sector, but this needs to be expanded to a senior level from all statutory agencies in the borough."

Councillor Elaine Norman, cabinet member for children and young people, said authorities need to move to a place where rough sleeping is seen as a health and social care issue, rather than just a housing issue.

"Unfortunately in the last two weeks, we've had two deaths, one of which is subject to a police investigation," Cllr Norman said.

"But the second emphasises the points made because he had been known to us collectively for a few months but he was discharged from hospital directly to a night shelter, so it emphasises that he was somebody with health issues who was put in a place which was inappropriate to his needs.

"Until we move to a place where rough sleeping is seen to be a health and social care issue, and not a housing issue, we are not going to make progress. Nobody we see just has the problem that they have nowhere to sleep that night. They have numerous problems."

Police are continuing to investigate the unexplained death of a man, understood to be a rough sleeper, who was found unresponsive by staff in Fullwell Cross Library in Barkingside on May 29.

The death of the Polish national, 59, is still being treated as unexplained, although it is not thought to be suspicious.

A post mortem failed to establish the cause of death and the man's family have been informed.

Another man, Sharjeel Ahmed, 35, was found dead in Ilford on June 5 after going out to celebrate Eid the night before.

Mr Goldup said one of the major obstacles to helping rough sleepers in Redbridge was the unresponsiveness of the High Commission of India to requests for information they may hold about their citizens.

"I can report that I have had a response - they have offered a named contact and offered a meeting," Mr Goldup said.

Cllr Norman added that a review of hostels in the borough will be taking place later in the year to see if the council can commission accommodation for rough sleepers who are active drinkers to help them off the streets.

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