Rest In Peace, my friend, Rest In Peace.

As tourists and residents bustled down Ousegate one day late last month, the police stood guard by blue and white tape. Passers-by were unaware they passed the site where one of York’s homeless had fallen. Fallen because there was no bed for him the previous night other than the street bench; his last night on earth.

Just 24 hours earlier I had been talking with him, in the early hours before the city stirred.

I accompanied the Salvation Army on their daily tour of York, reaching out to our street homeless, with a cheerful ‘Good Morning’, cup of tea or bacon butty, before they got down to business of providing the essential wrap-around care each person needed, as they do to those struggling on the streets each day.

They want to do more, yet there are some that want to cut their service, for the sake of a few thousand pounds, and have them do less. Is that what a human life is worth?

It is 2023 and we still have people sleeping rough.

It is 2023 and our most vulnerable still have nowhere safe to lay their heads - men and women in desperate need.

I witnessed broken bodies, I saw open wounds - a woman whose body was bruised from an assault, ulcerations, and disease.

I witnessed broken minds as a failed society sucked away their humanity and dignity; I witnessed a community bonded together, yet full of loneliness and sorrow; I witnessed what could be any one of us, if we didn’t have the good fortune we do.

Many will know that it was the injustice of homelessness that sparked my political awakening when Thatcher’s Government kicked people out of work and home.

It was a political choice. It always is a political choice. Those with power have failed to find its purpose, and rather than protecting those in need, protect themselves.

The Government have much to answer, but so has City of York Council. Previous administrations have squandered their time and failed our most vulnerable. In May, we elected a new administration, a Labour team, and I know they are working so hard on this problems. But winter is coming and a man lay dying on our streets, and is no more.

Just as with my tears, I will not hold back my anger.

A year ago I made the same tour with the Salvation Army; nothing had changed. Then we were fighting to keep the NAPpad, a unit of four self-contained micro-flats for the homeless. The council closed its doors. A NAPpad would have kept our dear friend alive. Now he is dead.

We need a fresh start, because so do our homeless people. Countless more are struggling, are on the edge of homelessness, and soon they too could join them: failed in their flats and homes, imprisoned by domestic violence, mental health challenges and substance misuse. For them, the streets are not far away.

These aren’t housing issues, although a home is needed. They are multi-faceted, multi-agency challenges. We need a public health approach to end York’s homelessness and we need it put in place as a matter of urgency.

The words of can’t, won’t, it’s complicated, it’ll take time, will not do. There is only one answer and that is ‘we will’.

I have spoken much with Cllr. Michael Pavlovic, first to relate my time out with the Salvation Army, then my remorse on hearing the tragic news, and now my response.

He has heard my anger and my determination. I know he means business too and we will both fight together for all those in housing need - on the streets, in sub-standard accommodation or entrapped in place that simply does not work.

We will find a way, no matter what it takes, because thousands in York need a home, better security and services to support their wellbeing in order to stay home. Those on the street need a safe place to rest, and the vital compassion and care to help them live.

I have never witnessed such extraordinary care and dedication as I have from the team at the Salvation Army. There is so much they could do, if only they were given the chance. One thing is for sure, no-one could take their place.

So as Parliament returns this week, I once again will focus on those in greatest need.

I will not cross by on the other side, as some do, and I will not hold back.

Let’s get that NAPpad opened, let’s get those wrap around services in place and let’s give each and every one of York’s street homeless the hope and care they need.

I will have no peace until my dear neighbours and friends are safe. But with sincere sadness I say, Rest in Peace, my friend, Rest in Peace.

Rachael Maskell is the Labour MP for York Central