The mother of a York man who died after spending the night sleeping rough on a bench in the city has urged people not to put labels on the victims of tragedy.

James Walker was described as ‘homeless’ in media reports following his death on August 23.

But that doesn’t begin to capture the fullness of the life that James lived, his mum Amanda says.

“He was not just a number,” Amanda said. “He was my son, he was Ryan’s brother, he was his grandparents’ grandson, his auntie’s nephew. He was very much loved and respected by the community.”

James, 36, was a skilled electrician who, a week before his death, had been working on the electrics for the new Full Sutton prison.

York Press: James WalkerJames Walker (Image: Walker family)

His well-paid job had taken him all around the world, including Brazil and Turkey.

He lived in York – and was, says his younger brother Ryan, a loving, caring older brother and son who would do anything for anyone.

Well over 70 people attended his funeral at York Crematorium on September 4, says Amanda.

There was lots of laughter as celebrant Fiona Brown remembered a little boy who had been ‘determined to make his mark on the world’ and who had ‘worked out how to charm the birds from the trees’.

York Press: James Walker as a boyJames Walker as a boy (Image: Family photo)

“We chose to celebrate the good things about his life,” said Amanda, 55, from Dringhouses. “That’s what James would have wanted.”

But James was also a man who battled demons all his life.

After what Amanda describes as a ‘traumatic incident’ when he was just eight or nine, he suffered all his life from PTSD, anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder.

He could be confident, bright and charming.

But when the demons struck, he would turn to alcohol to try to drown them out.

York Press: James Walker, left, with mum Amanda, centre, and brother RyanJames Walker, left, with mum Amanda, centre, and brother Ryan (Image: Walker family)

He was constantly failed by the NHS, Amanda said. It took years to get a diagnosis of PTSD – and even then, psychiatrists failed to give him the mental health treatment he needed.

Instead, he would repeatedly end up in a general hospital to be ‘de-toxed’ – and then sent back out again, where the cycle would start once more.

The last time she spoke to James it was on the phone. “He said ‘I love you mum’ and I said ‘I love you’,” Amanda said.

A few days later, James went out for a meal with his younger brother Ryan, 26, who was home on leave from the Royal Navy.

The pair chatted, and James asked Ryan when he was next going to sea.

York Press: James Walker, left, with brother Ryan, centre, and mum AmandaJames Walker, left, with brother Ryan, centre, and mum Amanda (Image: Family photo)

Ryan went to the loo – and when he came back, he noticed that James had tears in his eyes.

Ryan didn’t let on that he’d noticed. But thinking back to that moment, he said: “I think he knew deep down that… he’d had enough.”

James was found in the early hours of August 23 in the little garden behind All Saints Pavement, off High Ousegate. He was rushed to hospital, but despite efforts to save him, died there. He suffered a cardiac arrest, Amanda believes.

She couldn’t save James, Amanda says.

But by speaking out, she hopes to make people think twice before simply passing by a homeless person on the street.

We put labels on them, she says. But none of the people living on the streets planned to be there.

“Something happened in their lives that mentally they couldn’t cope with,” she said.

“But they all have a story to tell. It only takes 10 minutes to sit and listen.”

'If not for the Salvation Army we would have lost James years ago'

The mother of James Walker, who died in August after spending the night on the street, has added her voice to those calling on the city council to continue funding for the Salvation Army’s rough sleeping programme.

Amanda Walker said the decision not to renew the £95,000-a-year funding contract for the charity’s early intervention programme was ‘disgusting’.

During her son’s years of battling his demons, the charity frequently supported him, Amanda said – often referring him to the Changing Lives hostel, where at least she knew he had a roof over his head.

York Press: Joseph Clarkson, left, chats to the Salvation Army’s Charlie Malarkey over a cup of tea at the charity’s drop-in centreJoseph Clarkson, left, chats to the Salvation Army’s Charlie Malarkey over a cup of tea at the charity’s drop-in centre (Image: Stephen Lewis)

“They engaged with James, they helped him into Changing Lives,” she said. “He would have been sleeping on the streets as a homeless man but for them.”

She admitted that all the Salvation Army had been able to do was ‘pick up the pieces’. What he really needed was proper treatment for his mental health problems, she said.

“But they listened to him. If not for the Salvation Army I think we would have lost James years ago.

“The work they do is vitally important and they go far above and beyond.”

Referring to the decision by the council not to renew the charity’s funding contract beyond the end of this month, she added: “Anyone would think we were a third world country the way we treat people.”