YORK Central MP Rachael Maskell has spoken of her shock and sadness after a homeless man she met sleeping rough on the streets of York was found dead the very next morning.

Ms Maskell said she met the man, who has not yet been named, while on an early morning walk around the city centre to check on rough sleepers with the Salvation Army’s Early Intervention and Prevention Team last month.

He had been sleeping on a bench in the garden behind All Saints Pavement, off High Ousegate, Ms Maskell said.

Members of the early intervention team checked on him to make sure he was OK.

“It was very early in the morning,” Ms Maskell said. “He was sleeping on a bench, and he wasn’t going to be awakened any more than he needed to be.

“He clearly had multiple challenges and he engaged with us, but there were no particular alarm bells ringing.”

But the following morning, August 23 - as reported in The Press - the man was found dead.

York Press: Police standing guard in High Ousegate after the body of a rough sleeper was found on August 23Police standing guard in High Ousegate after the body of a rough sleeper was found on August 23 (Image: Stephen Lewis)

The tragedy has sparked shockwaves in York.

In an emotional column in The Press today, Ms Maskell writes: “Rest In Peace, my friend, Rest In Peace.

“As tourists and residents bustled down Ousegate …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.”

Cllr Michael Pavlovic, the city council’s executive member for housing, planning and safer communities, has extended his condolences to the man’s family and friends, and told The Press: “One death is one too many.”

Cllr Pavlovic said the reasons for homelessness and rough sleeping were varied, but pledged: “I’ve spent the majority of my working life working in support to those who’ve been homeless and disadvantaged. I can therefore say with conviction that tackling homelessness and particularly street sleeping will be a major priority of this Labour administration.”

A spokesperson for the Salvation Army in York – which carries out early morning walks up to five times a week in York to check on rough sleepers and offer hot food, drinks, clothes, first aid and signposting to support services – said its team had been ‘devastated’ to hear about the death.

“This person was known to our Early Intervention and Prevention Team, who offer vital support to people who are sleeping rough, and our thoughts and prayers are with anyone affected by this,” the spokesperson said.

But they added: “Sadly, unnecessary deaths like this are not unusual.”

Ms Maskell claims that if York’s NAPpad - a mobile night shelter with four self-contained secure units – had still been open, the man might still have been alive.

But a pilot scheme ended a month ago and the NAPpad has been closed while discussions are held about the best place for it.

However Tracey Carter, the city council’s director of housing, insisted: “While the number of people sleeping rough in York continues to rise and fall as people come and go from other areas, we have enough beds and nobody needs to sleep outdoors.

“The NAPpads in York are among a variety of accommodation which suit a range of needs, and have always been a temporary source of accommodation at a short-term location. They are not in themselves a solution to rough sleeping.”

'New approach' needed to tackling homelessness

Estimates of the number of people sleeping rough on York’s streets vary.

But Ms Maskell says that, in her 90-minute walkabout of the city centre with the Salvation Army on August 22, she encountered well over 10 people sleeping rough on benches, in doorways, or hidden corners. All were in ‘desperate need’, she says.

There are a number of hostels providing temporary accommodation for rough sleepers in York.

City of York Council also employs Street Navigators who find people sleeping rough, work with them and offer everyone a safe bed.

But Ms Carter said: “Sometimes this offer is declined, reflecting that sleeping rough is often due to complex issues including substance misuse and poor mental health.”

National data shows that life expectancy drops from 83 to 47 years when people live on the street.

Ms Maskell agrees that not everyone who ends up on the streets wants to spend time in a hostel – or even feels safe there.

The MP says there needs to be a new approach that focuses on identifying the causes of homelessness – whether it be domestic abuse, financial problems, mental health or alcohol or drug dependency – and works with individual rough sleepers to address those problems.

The Salvation Army agrees that the best way to end homelessness is by dealing with the root causes.

It has called on the Government to ensure local authorities have the funding and guidance they need to end rough sleeping, and has three specific demands:

  • Changes to homelessness legislation so all rough sleepers are deemed to have a priority need for accommodation
  • Government funding to tackle rough sleeping should rise with inflation
  • Mental health and addiction support should be part of local authority homelessness strategies