IslingtonTribune

The independent London newspaper

Candles are lit for those who died without a home

Dying Homeless is recording deaths

26 February, 2021 — By Helen Chapman

Candles were lit in Trafalgar Square on Monday evening to mark the deaths of every homeless person in the UK in 2020

TRIBUTES have been paid to two homeless men who died in Islington last year – as candles were lit in Trafalgar Square to remember rough sleepers.

The grassroots organisation, the Museum of Homelessness (MoH), is charting the deaths of homeless people through Freedom of Information requests, family testimonies and coroner’s reports. The Dying Homeless project aims to ensure that they are marked in more detail beyond cold statistics.

Its research found Stephen Grant died in January last year aged 54 and Paul Milligan died in March at 65.

Both were clients at the Single Homeless Project where worker Tunika Nsingo has paid tribute.

She said: “Steven was a soldier who endured life but fought on to find peace. He was a dreamer and musically designed to entertain and dance with life. He was an observer of people and never judged.

“He knew what he wanted and was at peace with that, no matter what you say he stuck to what he wanted to do.

“He loved wrestling and I guess this reflected his personality – you would have to wrestle to gain his trust and once you did, he would open up like a beautiful canvas with decorative stories.”

In Islington the MoH have so far recorded four homeless deaths last year, although it is not known where they died.

The project includes the deaths of people who were living on the streets, “sofa surfing”, and in emergency or temporary accommodation for the homeless.

Ms Nsingo said of Mr Milligan: “The times we spent with Paul taught us a great lesson that life is a journey and every person you meet is an experience in that journey.

“He stayed true to whom he was, and his soul danced with words according to the specific people he met.”

She added: “Paul knew how to adapt to every situation and people from every background. He knew how to talk proper English, Jamaican patwa, street slang and he would use his deep Irish accent according to the specific people he met.”

Daniela Sbrisny, who runs the Margins Project supporting homeless people at the Union Chapel in Highbury, said: “I think it is great those figures are published because it is difficult to really understand who is impacted and who has lost their lives. I think it is important to acknowledge they existed. It also rings some hard truths – these are people who are dying. It is important to ask how to prevent this in the future.”

Campaigners lit the candles in Trafalgar Square on Monday evening for each person who died while homeless in the UK in 2020.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the council says it has assisted more than 260 people experiencing homelessness and provided 192 people with temporary accommodation.

Housing chief Cllr Diarmaid Ward said: “The coronavirus crisis continues to be an enormous challenge for everyone in the UK, but the housing crisis and the rise in homelessness across the country has been a desperate reality for many years now, long before the pandemic began.

“The ‘Everyone in’ initiative was effective in getting us through the worst of the crisis but longer-term funding streams and national policy change is needed to tackle the larger homelessness crisis facing our society. Every life lost is a tragedy, and although the council is doing everything it can to support people.”

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said it had spent £700million this year and would spend £750million next year to tackle homelessness.

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