Death of woman left homeless after losing job should 'never have happened'

More should have been done to prevent the death of a woman who ended up homeless and sleeping in a tent in Burton, councillors said. Credit: BPM Media

More should have been done to prevent the death of a woman who ended up homeless and sleeping in a tent in Burton, councillors said.

Area leaders in the town say the suicide of a woman who lost her job during the Covid pandemic and ended up homeless "should never have happened".

An inquest into her death heard that Angela Winter and her husband, Michael, lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic and then their home when they could no longer afford to pay their rent.

They ended up moving in with family in March 2021, but following disagreements, moved out and were forced onto the streets and were living in a tent by June 2021.

An urgent review of homeless services in Burton will take place after the death of Mrs Winter - who took a drugs overdose in June last year after being left unable to cope with the couple's dire situation any more.

The case shocked the country when it emerged the woman's distraught husband, who also ended up homeless with his wife, sat with her body for three days after being left devastated by her death.

An officer pictured at the scene Credit: BPM Media

The inquest heard Mrs Winter grew frustrated with their living conditions and following an argument with her husband stormed off.

He found her dead days later in a wooded copse at the back of Burton Library in the town centre and heartbroken he remained with her body for three days before calling the police.In his statement, Mr Winter told the inquest the couple had often been asked to leave areas where they camped in their tent and, at one point, were told to leave Branston Water Park.

News of Mrs Winter's upsetting death bought an outpouring of grief from people who said the couple had sadly "fallen through the cracks".Now a meeting, East Staffordshire Borough Council has been told by one councillor there had been a "serious mistake" which led to Mrs Winter's death and the authority needed to find out where improvements could be made to ensure such a tragic death "doesn't happen again", said Councillor Richard Grosvenor.He said: "There has been an error, a serious mistake which has led to this and scrutiny needs to find out where that is and to make improvement suggestions to make sure this doesn't happen again, and that needs to be done urgently."He was speaking when a motion was put forward by Councillor Deneice Florence-Jukes who called for an urgent review "to establish if the current practices and policies involved in delivering a service to rough sleepers are the best they can be and make any recommendations".

She said: "The frequency of outreach sweeps [searching for homeless people in the town] are every two weeks and there is a real chance people could be missed. The route of the sweeps needs revising. We want our service to be the best.She later added: "We need to look at the service we provide. This couple clearly weren't capable of being rough sleepers.

"They had been in employment and had had a stable home. They just fell on hard times."

She also suggested information for rough sleepers on how they have access help could be placed on noticeboards on the Washlands, which is often where many end up sleeping rough.

Police attended the scene Credit: BPM Media

Information compiled by the council and released to the meeting gave a timeline of checks on the number of homeless people in the town and where the Winters were.

The checks are carried out by the borough council working with Burton YMCA, which is the charity that cares for the homeless in the town.It stated a check was conducted on June 1, 2021 - the same day the Winters became homeless. They were still on the streets during a second check on June 15.

On June 22 Burton YMCA - which works with rough sleepers - responded to reports of two homeless people using the underpass at the A38 in Branston.

However, the charity said it did not find anyone when it visited the next morning.

On June 24 Mrs Winter left her husband. He did not find her dead until June 29 - the same day of check was carried out.The council reported: "The sweep attends hotspots and areas where there have been recent reports [of homeless people].

"It is possible that people who are well concealed, or are making an effort not to be found will not be located.

"Mr Winter is reported as stating that the couple moved their tent periodically, ‘in and around’ Burton which would make them more difficult to locate.

"It should be noted that the location where Mrs Winter was found has not been identified as an area where they camped, either once or at all.Another concern was Mr Winter said the couple relied on food banks.

The council said: "The YMCA record the names of people using the food bank and requests ID where possible in order to monitor usage and offer assistance where necessary.

"There is no record of the Winters. There are, of course, a number of alternative ‘food bank’ type establishments in Burton which the Winters may have been utilising."The report also said Mr Winter claimed the couple had often been asked to leave the areas they were camping.

"The police do not move people on in general, they would call [the council-run] Housing Options, including the out of hours service.

"Individual land owners may ask someone occupying their land to depart, but this would certainly not be commonplace.

"The Open Spaces Team [also council run] do not systematically record contact with rough sleepers/sightings to tents, but there is a strong collaboration with Housing Options and a long established practice of reporting such contacts appropriately to secure assistance for the individuals affected.

"This collaboration applied in the same way to Civil Enforcement who report into the Housing Options team as necessary."

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