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‘No humanity’ shown to Big Issue seller

33-year-old Neculai Popa, who sold magazine in Upper Street, died just days after being told he may have to leave hostel

12 January, 2018 — By Emily Finch

Neculai Popa: ‘So anxious before he died’. Photo: Jamie Walls

FRIENDS of a terminally ill Big Issue seller have said there was “no humanity” in the way he died alone in a hostel room – less than six months after a report warned that hostels were ill-equipped to deal with end-of-life care.

Neculai Popa, 33, was a familiar face in Upper Street, where he sold the magazine outside Sainsbury’s for the four years before his death on December 5, just days after being told he may have to leave his hostel.

As reported in the Tribune last month, his friends had started fundraising to get him into permanent housing but he died in the temporary hostel room before the £3,000 target was reached.

“He was so frustrated and anxious before he died,” said Amparo Escobedo, a picture editor who started the fundraising campaign.

The Highbury resident befriended Mr Popa two years ago after chatting to him on the street. She believed a nurse had registered her as his next of kin at University College Hospital (UCH) where Mr Popa was undergoing treatment.

Following spells in hospital, Mr Popa would stay in the hostel linked with UCH for short stretches before going back onto the streets.

Ms Escobedo said: “There was no humanity shown. I was not told about his death by the hospital or the hostel even though they knew me as his friend and next of kin.”

She only found out about his death a day after he died when she went to UCH after not getting through to Mr Popa on his phone. A nurse advised her to contact the coroner’s office.

Romanian-born Mr Popa moved to London 10 years ago. He worked as a Camden Market trader but became homeless four years ago following a relationship breakdown.

Gordon Bennett, a graphic designer from Old Street who also befriended Mr Popa as he sold magazines on the street, said he suffered greatly at the end of his life and was not given support for his worsening mental health.

“This country was his home,” he said. “I’m surprised by the lack of care he received. He had the minimum. His last days should have been comfortable. As friends we are asking if we could have done more but how could the hostel not find his next of kin after he died?”

Mr Popa’s relatives were traced with the help of another Romanian Big Issue seller, who tracked them down through social media. His funeral took place in Romania on Tuesday but friends have organised a memorial event for noon on January 20 in the garden of St Mary’s Church, just yards from where he sold the Big Issue.

A recent research report concluded that “services for homeless people with advanced ill health are lacking”.

A spokeswoman for UCH said: “We would like to offer our deepest sympathies to Neculai’s family and friends at this difficult time. We are sorry for their loss.

 Neculai had been an inpatient several times until October 2017. After he was discharged, our homeless team used charity money to pay for temporary accommodation.

 The team, which supports patients who do not have a fixed address, stayed in touch with Neculai regularly while they tried to support him to find a more permanent solution, and went above and beyond to try to help him.

 Neculai gave us very clear instructions about his next of kin which we recorded in his notes, and followed.”


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