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ITV Central investigation: Life and death on the streets

Just some of the homeless people who have died across the Midlands.

An investigation by ITV News Central has uncovered serious gaps in the way the deaths of homeless people are being treated by those in charge.

Local authorities across the region revealed they don't keep records of homeless people who die in their area - and many of them admitted they have no idea who, if anybody, does.

Councils, police, ambulance services and even the Coroner all gave the same response.

It comes after official estimates highlighted Birmingham as having more homeless deaths in the past five years than any other local authority area in the country.

Watch part 1 of our report by Charlotte Cross:

“There are too many names here. There shouldn’t be any.”

Lesley Johnston looked down at the memorial set up in Birmingham city centre for the rough sleepers who have died here. “This isn’t good enough - something has to change.”

She’s part of the Birmingham Support Group, a volunteer outreach organisation which helps the city’s homeless.

And she’s known too many who have died.

“I’ve been to a few funerals now. I dread the next one,” she told me.

“There’s a great sadness. Because we know them as people - they are human. We've got to know them over the years, so they've just been a part of our life.”

The memorial in Stephenson Street. Credit: ITV News Central

Among those who have died is Francis Deenan, better known by his middle name Damian.

He passed away in April 2017.

"We had a really good relationship with Damian - he was a cheeky chappy, always made us smile," Lesley said.

"He used to sing and dance for us.

"One year, he gave some money to my daughter and told her to get some flowers and chocolates for me, because we used to help him that much. And I did get to say thank you, a week before he passed away."

Lesley also knew Kane Walker, whose death in January this year hit the headlines and prompted a wave of anger when a heartbreaking video of him crying as he spoke to a charity worker emerged.

  • Damian recorded a special Mother's Day message for Lesley just weeks before he died:

According to the Office of National Statistics, between 2013 and 2017, 223 homeless people died in the West Midlands and 152 died in the East Midlands, including:

  • 8 in Wolverhampton
  • 8 in Worcester
  • 11 in Walsall
  • 12 in Nottingham
  • 12 in Sandwell
  • 13 in Chesterfield
  • 18 in Stoke
  • 19 in Coventry
  • 19 in Derby
  • 21 in Northampton
  • 37 in Leicester
  • 90 in Birmingham

The figures for Birmingham are the highest of any local authority area in the country.

ITV Central has been investigating the deaths of homeless people across the Midlands - trying to find the names and stories of the people who make up these shocking statistics.

Here are just a few:

  • James Smith: Stratford, January 2015
  • Vladimir Body: Stratford, November 2015
  • ‘Hayley’: Wolverhampton, January 2016
  • Cardon Banfield: Worcester, July 2016
  • Chirac Ionut: Birmingham, December 2016
  • ‘Steve’: Dudley, January 2017
  • Francis Damian Deenan: Birmingham, April 2017
  • Sean Murphy: Stoke, May 2017
  • Paul Williams: Birmingham, October 2017
  • David Fuller: Chesterfield, December 2017
  • Matthew ‘Chewy’ Small: Leicester, January 2018
  • ‘Julie’: Wolverhampton, January 2018
  • Daniel Hutton: Burton, February 2018
  • ‘Ben’: Retford, February 2018
  • Alain Simmonds: Shifnal, June 2018
  • Jayne Simpson: July 2018, Stafford
  • Kane Walker: Birmingham, January 2019

But there are many more whose names and details we don’t know.

ITV News Central has asked every council across the East and West Midlands for the number and names of people who have died while homeless since 2013.

But not a single one has been able to provide that information.

What’s more, many of them have admitted they don’t know who would hold it.

The police, Coroner, and ambulance services have all said the same.

It’s even attracted the attention of the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner.

“It’s deeply sad to think that someone’s homeless or rough sleeping, they die - sometimes through drug overdose or sometimes because of the cold - and there’s no proper record of that and no proper investigation,” David Jamieson told me.

“That can’t be right.

“And that’s why we need proper records kept. Services working together.”

West Midlands Police Chief Constable will be meeting Birmingham’s coroner on March 7 to discuss the issue and try to understand the scale of the problem.

But for people living on the streets, the time for action is now.

Bill West, a former rough sleeper who now helps with outreach, said he has known many of those who have passed away - and he believes the number might be much higher than official estimates claim.

"It's quite disgusting that here we are in the 21st Century, in one of the richest countries on this planet, that we've got people dying on the streets,” he said.

“No one's monitoring it. There are no outreach teams in the city during the day. We've got all these deaths in one city. And no one seems to be doing anything. Or care."

Birmingham City Council insisted it was working with others nationally to try to get to grips with homelessness, and find ways of sharing information.

The authority’s Housing Director, Julie Griffin, said more than 600 households approached them every month as homeless - the equivalent to filling four 20-storey homeless blocks.

We know our street community extremely well, and we are trying to bespoke our services.

But we need to continue to work with that community to understand what will help them back into accommodation, and what are the root causes for why they’re homeless and on the streets.

How can we support them back into that accommodation?

Nobody should ever have to sleep on the streets, or die on the streets.

– Julie Griffin, Birmingham City Council Housing Director

But the question is: If nobody is keeping track of who is dying, where and by what means, how can anyone know the true scale of the problem?

In part two of our series, I went out with Lesley and other volunteers from the Birmingham Support Group to meet some of the rough sleepers they help each week.

And there's one main obstacle for those trying to get back on their feet.

Without proper identification, many have found themselves unable to open a bank account to receive their benefits, or even register at a GP surgery.

It's something campaigners say needs to be investigated urgently.

Watch part 2 of our report by Charlotte Cross: