Preston's homeless death toll is 'just the tip of the iceberg'

Homeless Preston man Michael Dean tragically passed away just two weeks ago, yet his passing – like many other deaths of homeless people in the city – went largely unnoticed.

Sunday, 13th October 2019, 8:55 pm
The rate of death among Preston's homeless is significantly higher than the average

Mr Dean, known as Deano, was in his early 40s and has unwittingly become a part of a shameful statistic tarring the city, where the rate of death among rough sleepers is significantly higher than the national average.

He had a number of physical health difficulties, had spent time in hospital prior to his death and had used the Foxton Centre’s Homeless Hub in September.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates 15 homeless people died in Preston between 2013 and 2018 – but one homeless charity fears this is the tip of the iceberg, as it knows of at least three other deaths not included in this estimate.

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'The figures reflect badly on us as a society'

Jeff Marsh, of the Foxton Centre, said: “These figures aren’t just sad. They reflect really badly on us all.

“The people dying are our fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and friends. We should all do what we can to show them the kindness and understanding needed.

“There is a pattern identified in the Office for National Statistics report which shows death rates in urban areas are much higher where there are more people sleeping rough, which you would expect.

“For example Manchester was estimated to have 19 deaths and Liverpool 16 for the same period.

Jeff Marsh of the Foxton Centre

“But these figures are estimates because nobody has set up systems which recognise and capture the actual numbers of homeless people and their deaths – a tragedy in itself.

“We are aware of eight homeless people who passed away in 2018 – not the five in our estimate in Preston – and I’m sure we didn’t pick up all the deaths.”

Deaths of homeless people were identified from the death registration records held by the ONS and a statistical method called capture-recapture modelling was applied to estimate the most likely number of additional registrations not identified as homeless people.

Last March, homeless man Ginger Schofield collapsed 15 minutes after leaving emergency accommodation at the Foxton Centre set up in cold weather.

The Foxton Centre

He died in a doorway off Preston’s Flag Market, despite efforts from passers by.

A decision was taken that his death did not meet the criteria to carry out a safeguarding adults review (SAR).

Laura Parkinson, of the Lancashire Safeguarding Adults Board (LSAB) says the group has not undertaken any SARs in relation to homelessness, but since then a “multi-agency pathway” has recently been agreed and published, which provides guidance to professionals responding to such incidents.

She added: “A multi-agency group has been working to consider the issues relating to individuals with complex needs who have no fixed abode or are at risk of homelessness, in order to provide assurance to the LSAB that appropriate action is taken.”

Preston, like other cities, has experienced the effects of austerity over the past 10 years, with rough sleeping rising 165 per cent nationally.

Mr Marsh adds: “The rise in the number of drug related deaths is alarming and I would think there are a number of issues driving that – the ease of availability of drugs on the streets through the rise of sophisticated dealing networks like ‘County Lines’, where often the homeless and vulnerable are targeted by outside gangs who flood areas with cheap drugs.

“The mental health crisis on the streets often sees people with severe and enduring mental health problems sleeping rough without treatment, then people self medicate with street drugs, illicit prescribed medication and alcohol.

“We can all work together to make sure we use the limited resources we have to the best effect. We work closely with a range of partners including the city and county councils, the police, health services other charities to help meet the needs of the homeless and prevent the tragic deaths outlined in this report.”

Helping our homeless

As part of the government funded Rough Sleepers Initiative and Rapid Re-Housing Pathways programmes, Foxton, Community Gateway housing association and Preston City Council are working together to help provide longer term housing options for people moving away from rough sleeping.

In October 2018, the council got more than £100,000 to extend the outreach work. There are now two full-time posts to complement the two 16-hour-a-week posts that were already in operation, allowing Foxton to do more frequent outreach.

In January, the council was awarded £500,000 funding to set up a Homeless Hub.

These initiatives are funded by the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government and Preston City Council, but only until the end of March 2020.

They provide an opportunity to move people away from the streets into safe accommodation and importantly into services that can support their physical and mental health needs.

The funding also provides the Foxton Centre with an expanded outreach team who encourage rough sleepers to come and access services.

In addition a Homeless Hub offering seven days a week emergency housing has been developed.

Its six places are permanently full and sometimes it has 10 people booked in.

The scheme has potentially saved more people dying on the streets - two potential cancers were picked up by medics working alongside the team.

Jeff Marsh explains: “Many of the people we deal with at the Foxton Centre have serious and underlying physical health problems and we find difficulty in registering people for GP services and in keeping in touch with people so that treatment is followed up. We have a medical room where people are receiving free dental treatment thanks to Sharoe Green Dental Practice. We also provide drug and alcohol assessment and treatment from Inspire and CGL, an optician and soon we hope GP and nurse time and mental health assessment and support.”

Since the outreach work started in February, many long term rough sleepers have been rehoused, some in one bedroom flats in Community Gateway’s stock.

Regular counts and outreach work have showed a downward trend in numbers sleeping rough, since the 23 counted last November.

Plans to end rough sleeping

Preston City Council is tasked with a great deal of responsibility when it come to finding accommodation for homeless people.

Staff frequently have to make the difficult decision to turn some away and to other services because they have to prioritise families and vulnerable people.

The authority has recently become part of the Making Every Adult Matter (MEAM) coalition, which means officers will be able to co-ordinate their approach with other local authorities, services and charities to tackle the root causes of homelessness.

A council spokesman said: “Any death either on the streets or in temporary accommodation is very sad.

“Going forward we are hopeful that the work we are able to undertake under the Rough Sleeper Initiative, and being an early adopter of the Rapid Rehousing Pathway, is allowing us to provide the accommodation options and support for those sleeping rough, or those at risk of sleeping rough.

“It’s important that the individual wants to engage with the support being offered, but it also means once they are working with us they have the safety net of the pathway and the options this provides.

“We will be working with our partners - the Foxton Centre, Progress Housing and, more recently, Community Gateway Association - to help us to achieve the goal of eradicating rough sleeping. Through this Government issued grant we are supporting the Government’s strategy and targets to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and eradicate it by 2027.”

Big Sleep Out

Preston North End has organised a Big Sleep Out scheduled on November 15, expected to attracted more than 200 people, in order to raise £50,000 to buy and restore a derelict property to provide training and employment opportunities for homeless people.

To take part, visit