'We must learn lessons from rough sleeper death'

Vital lessons must be learned from homeless deaths, a Preston charity boss has said amid concerns about missed opportunities.

Learn lessons about homeless deaths
Learn lessons about homeless deaths

A national investigation has found very few cases of people dying on the streets result in a Safeguarding Adult Review (SAR).

The research – carried out by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) in partnership with the Lancashire Post – has led to calls for a change to regulations to ensure chances to improve services are not overlooked.

Chief executive of Preston’s Foxton Centre charity, Jeff Marsh, says the city council’s adoption of a new scheme – along with new funding – is a positive step.

It comes as national charity Crisis calls for cases of homeless deaths to be incorporated into SAR criteria, which is not currently the case.

Although there have been no SARs for homeless deaths in the last two years in the county, one will take place for the case of a man who died in Preston in March.

Mr Marsh said: “There’s nothing more significant than someone passing away. It’s incumbent on us all to learn from that so I’m really pleased (that this SAR is going to take place).”

The TBIJ analysis says at least 102 people have died while homeless since October across England and Wales.

The charity Homeless Link says best practice is that a review of some form should always take place, whether it be an official SAR or otherwise.

But this is rarely the case, with Bureau figures showing only a handful or reviews have been recorded.

Mr Marsh said specific criteria must be met for organisation to refer a case for a review.

For example, a review only takes place if an adult “dies as a result of abuse or neglect, whether known or suspected, and there is concern that partner agencies could have worked together more effectively” and agencies refer the case to the local Safeguarding Board.

Matt Downie, director at homelessness charity Crisis, is among those to call for change.

He said: “We need to see the system, which is currently used to investigate the deaths of children and vulnerable adults, extended to include cases where a person has died whilst homeless and living on the streets.

“This will allow us to have a more accurate picture of the number of people who die in this situation, and will give the authorities, councils and homelessness services valuable information that could help them prevent the deaths of rough sleepers in the future.

“But ultimately, we must do what it takes to end rough sleeping – and all forms of homelessness – once and for all. We know it can be done, and in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, there is no excuse for this tragedy to carry on.”

Mr Marsh, whose Foxton Centre enacts the severe winter protocol which sees homeless people offered accommodation if temperatures drop below freezing, says reviews are underway for his team to learn from the experience of last winter when they were operating at capacity.

He praised the county council and the safeguarding board for inviting him to share the Foxton’s experiences from the past year with a view to improve partnership working.

He said: “We are going to review what happened last winter and we are going to look at our assessment process. For example, we’re looking around health assessments (once a homeless person enters the centre).

“A medical professional might be able to call up someone’s health records (so that appropriate treatment or advice can be found).”

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

And the town hall has also been handed a £130k cash pot to help tackle the city’s ongoing homelessness problem.

Mr Marsh said: “I think that central government has been ashamed by the increase of rough sleepers in recent years and they are throwing more money at it.

“MEAM is a formalisation of the approach that all the partners will come together and discuss what can be done on a regular basis.

“From the point of view from the voluntary sector it’s what we’ve been waiting to see for a long time.

“There’s a recognition both locally and nationally, I think, that these things are as complex as they are.”

No inquest into death

A man died on Cheapside in Preston City Centre on March 1 after leaving a homeless shelter in sub-zero temperatures.

He had been referred to the Foxton Centre as part of their emergency Winterwatch scheme, which offers rough sleepers a place to sleep during subzero weather.

Mr Schofield, whose first name has not been released but who was known as Ginger and who was aged in his 60s, is believed to have died from natural causes.

He had left the Foxton Centre in Knowsley Street at 8am on Thursday, March 1 and was taken ill around 15 minutes later.

Joe McAteer, a Big Issue seller, was walking across the Flag Market from his home when he spotted the man in a doorway of the Turtle Bay restaurant and a neighbouring property, opposite the Flag Market.

He rushed back to his flat to get a blanket to cover the man up in the freezing temperatures.

Speaking at the time, Joe, 60, recalled: “A woman was giving him CPR and I held her phone for her so she could get instructions.

“He didn’t seem to be responding. You just go into autopilot trying to help.

“I didn’t know who the woman was but she did really well – when the paramedics arrived they took over.

“It’s thought he suffered a heart attack. I noticed he had an injury on his head and a bit of blood from hitting his head.”

A full inquest into Mr Schofield’s death was never held, but police said he died form natural causes.

‘Investigating deaths will help identify issues’

Professor Michael Preston-Shoot is the Independent Chair two Safeguarding Adult Boards in Brent and Lewisham and is a Professor Emeritus in social work at the University of Bedfordshire.

“Awareness is very variable across the country,” he said.

“One can only hope that police and other agencies are aware of the option and think’ oh yes maybe I should consider this for a referral’. It may be that agencies are just not referring cases.”

Rick Henderson, chief executive of Homeless Link, said: “Until now, a lack of data on rough sleeper deaths has been a conspicuous gap in the evidence base. Access to reliable research will help us to understand and bring an end to this disgraceful issue. In addition, serious case reviews should be carried out for all deaths.”

Petra Salva, St Mungo’s Director of Rough Sleeper Services, said: “We want to see Safeguarding Adult Boards always carrying out a Safeguarding Adults Review where someone dies while sleeping rough. Investigating deaths will help identify issues around care and where more help is needed to move people off the street and out of danger.”

No death probes in two years

Jane Booth, independent chairman of the Lancashire Adult Safeguarding Board, said: “Our adult safeguarding reviews are carried out in line with government legislation set out in the Care Act.

“Although homelessness itself is not a criteria, we would review cases where the person who has died had care and support needs, and there are indications that agencies may not have worked well together. Agencies who supported the person would refer the case to us.

“During the last two years we have not conducted any reviews relating to deaths of homeless people. I will raise the issue highlighted by Homeless Link at our next board meeting.”

Coun Nweeda Khan, cabinet member for communities and social inclusion at Preston City Council, said: “We are carrying out a Safeguarding Adult Review (SAR) following the death of the homeless gentleman in March, in partnership with the Foxton Centre. Information is currently being gathered and the review will then be submitted to the Lancashire Safeguarding Adults board.

“We are continually working together with statutory and voluntary sector organisations, to assist vulnerable residents of Preston and ensure they are aware of the services available to help them.”