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After tent fire, calls for action to prevent homeless deaths in winter

Man injured on Finsbury Park street is believed to be part of a new wave of London rough-sleepers who are in employment

30 November, 2018 — By Emily Finch

The badly-burned belongings of homeless ‘Lewis’ in Stroud Green Road 

A FOUNDER of a volunteer group offering food to the homeless says he “fears deaths this winter” after one man’s tent caught fire, burning his hands and hair.

Police and firefighters were called to Stroud Green Road just after 6.30am on Monday to reports of a tent on fire near the bridge next to Finsbury Park Station, a spot that has become popular with homeless people.

A man, named locally as Lewis, was treated at the scene and taken to hospital by ambulance. The Tribune understands that he is out of hospital and that the fire, started by an overturned candle, is not believed to have been a deliberate act.

The owner of a nearby café described the tent’s owner as “hardworking”. He is thought to be part of a new wave of homeless people who are sleeping rough in London despite being in employment, as the cost of living exceeds salaries.

The café owner, who did not wish to be named, said: “I would see him every day packing up his bag and going to work. It’s so sad what’s happened.”

A singed pile of items, including a mattress, was all that remained of the makeshift home on Monday afternoon.

Jon Glackin, from Streets Kitchen, said he was “worried” about the homeless population in the borough as the weather turns colder. His volunteer group, which feeds hundreds of homeless people throughout the capital, was previously based in Finsbury Park.

It is not known if “Lewis” was relying on the candle for warmth.

Figures released by homeless charity Shelter this month estimated that 320,000 people were now homeless in Britain – a four per cent increase from the previous year. Mr Glackin said:

“We are working very, very hard to prepare for winter. We are fearing there are going to be deaths.

“We are trying to set up two night shelters. London isn’t doing enough for homeless people. More urgent things need to happen to prevent more deaths and accidents such as a burnt tent.”

Streets Kitchen relies on volunteers to go out on the streets to feed and clothe people in Camden, Islington and Westminster.

Mary Atkinson, who lives in Woodstock Road and saw “Lewis” being treated in an ambulance, said it was “upsetting” to see so many homeless people living under the bridge in Stroud Green Road. “It’s really shocking. I can’t believe as a community we haven’t been able to come up with a solution and that people are living under the bridge,” she said.

Four people were seen living under the bridge this week on a road which connects Crouch Hill to Finsbury Park.

The Town Hall conducted a “deep clean” of the bridge earlier this month. It has worked with Streets Kitchen to prevent valuables belonging to the homeless population being thrown away.

Islington housing chief Councillor Diarmaid Ward said the council was “working with the man concerned to make sure he’s all right and to try to encourage him into accommodation”.

He said: “We’re saddened to hear of this incident. Rough sleepers are some of the most vulnerable people in our society and incidents like this serve to reinforce that point.

“The council and our partner agencies are working extremely hard to combat homelessness and help people off the streets and into safe, secure accommodation. Sometimes these offers of help are refused at first, but we will continue to keep asking and to offer support. We have built links with specialist charities who are skilled in working with people who for many reasons are reluctant to take up offers of support.”

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