Today (15th March) on the steps of All Saints Church Northampton, Hope hosts a vigil or commemoration for those people who have died over the last twenty months from the consequences of homelessness, including those who have died whilst street homeless. The event will be supported by Fr Oliver Coss, the rector at the church.
We started thinking about those who were dying in the summer of 2017 when a specific death – Richard Campbell – really touched our service users, volunteers and staff at Hope. As the local deaths increased there was also interest nationally from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, who launched a register of deaths and a campaign to uncover the stories of thiose who died. Given the issues we were facing, we joined in this campaign and supplied data to Maeve McClenaghan, who was running the campaign there. We have worked closely with Maeve on her work, which will include a book later this year which should feature stories from Northampton’s homeless.
With the count nationally now standing at almost 800 lives in 18 months, the Bureau itself will be moving onto other areas to investigate, and are passing the leadership of the register to our other friends at the Museum of Homelessness. The BIJ have done an enormous amount to focus attention on the deaths, showing a degree of leadership that the other national homelessness agencies failed to demonstrate on this national disgrace. The fact that the ONS are now collecting data on deaths of homeless people is proof of what they have achieved.
Locally our memorial garden at Hope has been featured nationally and internationally in the media, and we continue to highlight the issue of homeless deaths.
These senseless premature deaths, some horrible in their circumstances, and all preventable, act as testimony to the tragedy of homelessness and poverty, and the lack of value placed on the lives of people at the bottom of society. We share these stories because all these lives matter, and the people involved deserve respect and recognition. We also call for change: change to a housing and homelessness system that often does not seem to care; we call out the lack of compassion and sometimes absurd barriers placed in the way of homeless people before support is made available. Some of the 800 people nationally who have died might be alive now if such compassion was more in evidence.
These deaths are at the apex of indifference to the lives of people in poverty: they stand as the ultimate symbol of the indifference of those in power who do not care for the poorest. They are the metaphor for our broken society. In contrast, our collective solidarity and remembrance for our dead shows that the most marginalised and excluded do matter. This is what Hope stands for.