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Great Britain

The Homeless Fund: Nearly 150 people 'with hope in their lives' dead in one year in London

Homeless mourners dragged suitcases filled with their worldly possessions into Trafalgar Square’s church as they paid respects to rough sleepers who have died on London’s streets.

Nearly 150 people are known to have perished sleeping rough last year – the average age for women to die was 43, nearly four decades younger than the British norm. Many lay dead for hours before they were found.

The shocking numbers highlight the need for a 24-hour drop-in shelter offering support to homeless women through the Independent's Homeless appeal.

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A vicar who officiated last week’s commemoration service at St Martin-in-the-Fields has urged busy Londoners to “stop and care”, as he recounted the heartbreaking story of a rough-sleeper found shivering on the church steps draped in a flimsy baby blanket for paltry warmth.

Data from the Office for National Statistics shows 148 people died on London’s streets last year – the UK’s joint highest proportion with the north-west – and 126 of them were honoured at the service.

Nearly 150 people are known to have perished sleeping rough last year (Getty Images)

Their names were read out, as they received dignity in death through the data-gathering work of Clerkenwell’s Museum of Homelessness and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Museum co-founder Matthew Turtle said: “In our research we regularly see situations where people die from entirely treatable conditions or as a result of hate crime.” 

A homeless person outside Victoria Station in London (PA Wire/PA Images)

Amid eulogies at the service there were performances by homeless operas singers and choristers, bringing tears to many eyes with a cover of This Is Me from The Greatest Showman film.

Tents were erected at the altar as a memorial, including one belonging to a man known as Sparky who died inside it in Regent’s Park. 

A sleeping bag was also arranged on a crucifix bearing Christ’s face depicting a “homeless Jesus”.

Rev Richard Carter and Rev Catherine Duce (Matt Writtle)

The Rev Richard Carter, associate vicar for mission at St Martin’s, which supports the nearby Connection outreach centre, said: “Each one of those people we remember has a name, they were all given dignity at birth, all had hopes and joys and fears in their lives.

“We’re seeing more people in need than we’ve ever seen before.

“There’s mental health problems, problems of addiction, problems of people who are facing great loneliness or who are just unable to cope with the stresses of life, and they’re coming into our churches all the time because they’ve got nowhere else to turn.

“There was a man on the steps the other day and he was absolute shivering with the cold – he was in a baby’s crochet blanket.

“It was pouring with rain, he was wet to the skin and he was almost suffering from hypothermia, just trembling.

“And another homeless man opened his bag and pulled out this jumper and gave his only jumper to the bloke who was shivering so much.

"If everybody just stopped and cared, brought somebody who was homeless a cup of tea, or if someone’s hungry get something to eat for them, treat people like human beings and you’ll feel more human too.

“I think this is a great city, it’s rich, it’s diverse and it’s got so much creativity, and many of those people are just longing for a chance to get off the street and work and have a roof over their heads.” 

This year’s Christmas campaign is for The Homeless Fund, which will finance desperately needed services. The campaign will highlight the worst instances of homelessness globally, with money raised going to help homeless projects in London. Click here to donate.

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