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What really happened to Upper Street Big Issue seller?

Friends call for ‘safeguarding adults’ review into homeless man who died alone in a hostel

26 October, 2018 — By Emily Finch

Neculai Popa, who sold the Big Issue in Upper Street, became a popular figure in Highbury

FRIENDS of a Big Issue seller who died alone in a hostel room for destitute people have blasted the Town Hall for a lack of “transparency”.

An inquest into the death of Neculai Popa, who sold the magazine in Upper Street, revealed that Islington Council evicted him from temporary accommodation and was seeking rent arrears from him despite the 33-year-old being seriously ill.

Mr Popa’s friends called for a review into his death led by Islington’s Safeguarding Adults Board. But the Town Hall this week said no such review would take place because the “statutory criteria” had not been met.

Charities for the homeless say these reviews are crucial in finding out how such deaths can be prevented in the future.

Gordon Bennett, a graphic designer from Old Street who befriended Mr Popa while he was selling papers on the street, said: “The council have not been very transparent. They didn’t explain to us why Neculai’s death doesn’t meet the statutory requirements for a review.

“If someone that had been in the contact with the council but later dies after being turned out of council housing doesn’t meet the requirements for a review I don’t know what would.”

An inquest at St Pancras Coroner’s Court in July heard how Mr Popa was offered temporary housing by Islington Council after he was treated at University College Hospital because he was vomiting blood. But the court was told he was later informed by the council that he was “not entitled” to public funds and was evicted from his home and asked to pay back rent arrears.

Mr Popa had moved to London 10 years ago from Romania and worked as a Camden Market trader. He became homeless five years ago following a relationship breakdown and became a popular figure in Highbury where he sold the Big Issue outside of Sainsbury’s.

The Town Hall said they would instigate a “learning exercise” into Mr Popa’s death. Cllr Diarmaid Ward, executive member for housing, said: “We take the deaths of any vulnerable person ex­tremely seriously and frequently scrutinise our safeguarding processes.

“In the case of Mr Popa, a review group made up of council staff, health and voluntary sector partners and chaired by the police examined the case in depth and we will be conducting a learning exercise to see if any further insights can be gained.

“We also call on the government to properly fund help for homeless people, and to change the national rules around ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ so vulnerable people are not penalised for being poor.”

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