Death in the mall: The eight people who have died homeless in Newham this year
- Credit: Archant
At least two homeless people have died at the Stratford Centre this year, and eight across Newham - but not all of them were recorded. Here, we tell their stories.
On a cold night in January this year, in the shadow of the Olympic Park and the bustling Westfield shopping centre, a man called Pepe died alone on the floors of the Stratford Centre.
Hours before, some 200 people had gathered two miles away for a party organised by a charity at the Memorial Community Church.
Volunteers laid on a dinner, a DJ, manicures and massages, handed out sleeping bags, and arranged showers for homeless people facing a night on the streets in the middle of winter.
Everyone had been waiting for Pepe, a well-loved, familiar face and “Jack the Lad”, to show up – but he never did.
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News of the death first began to reach the volunteers that night.
Lorraine Tabone, who has run the Lola’s Homeless group in Newham for three years, got a call when she arrived home around 9pm.
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“I felt numb,” she said. “I should have got up and run there, but I physically couldn’t.”
Just days later at 4.30am, rough sleepers who had bedded down for warmth next to the Stratford Centre were turfed out into the night by Newham Council.The Stratford Centre is a busy public thoroughfare open 24 hours a day and staffed around the clock by site security and PCSOs.
But when the shops close at 7pm and regular footfall dwindles, it also becomes the site of an inconvenient truth.
Every night, up to 50 people sleep rough here, in a space earmarked for regeneration and just yards from the lights of the £1.6bn Westfield centre.
They have nowhere else to go in the borough with the worst homelessness rates in London.
Last December Newham Council received nearly £400,000 of government funding to combat the issue, and in July announced plans for a 20-bed homeless centre as well as more outreach workers and pop-up daycare facilities.
The story of how Pepe came to be at the Stratford Centre, and what happened to him, is shrouded in uncertainty.
But an investigation by this newspaper has found he is one of at least eight people to have died while homeless in Newham over the past twelve months.
Most of them had connections to the Stratford Centre or died on the premises. The real figure for homeless deaths in the borough is likely to be much higher.
A national campaign by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, called Dying Homeless, which this newspaper is backing, was able to count 449 homeless people who have died across the UK since October 2017.
A total of 109 of were in London.
Since the launch of the campaign, the Office for National Statistics has said it will now start counting homeless deaths.
The individuals we have learned of were not part of the initial count. In many cases little is known of them beyond their first names, gleaned from the people that knew them at Stratford. Here are their stories.
Thought by volunteers to be 33 years of age, Pepe had been living in the Stratford Centre for several years. He was out of contact with his family in London and South Africa.
He was well-known among rough sleepers and Newham volunteers, who described him as “absolutely amazing”, a “cheeky chappy” who could “spin a tale”, and a “ladies’ man”.
He was also known to look after other rough sleepers and share food with them.
A 20-year-old at the Stratford Centre told the Newham Recorder: “He was like a dad to me.
“He was here every day and made me safe. If anyone tried to hurt me, he would be there. When he died, it broke me.”
Pepe died outside H. Samuels on the night of Saturday, January 20 this year. How he died is not known and the coroner’s office which investigates deaths could provide no information, but temperatures had dropped to 1°C that night.
The funeral took place on February 17. Friends from local charities stood alongside his family while five of Pepe’s closest friends from the rough sleeper community were also there, in new jackets paid for by the council.
A volunteer for the Lola’s Homeless network said Pepe’s legacy had been the way local voluntary organisations had started to collaborate.
“Since Pepe died we have actually been organising,” she said. “We know what’s being given out; our groups are connecting. Pepe brought us all together.”
A makeshift memorial was set up by rough sleepers outside the Starbucks at the Stratford Centre. This, however, has now been taken down.
Archie was a former nurse believed to be from Zimbabwe, and was about 40 years of age. His death, again from unknown causes, came to light in early May.
One Lola’s Homeless volunteer described him as “a lovely human… He had loads of knowledge and taught me a lot.”
In January, she recalled, he had stepped in to look after another woman living at the Stratford Centre.
The woman had collapsed during a memorial and Archie had been able to revive her before the ambulance arrived.
Exactly where Archie died is unknown, but it is believed he had found a place to live just before he died.
“Tibby” was from Romania and had been at the Stratford Centre for just two or three months before suffering a heart attack outside Starbucks on June 7 this year. He had been given a joint of Spice.
He was wheelchair-bound and spoke no English. Volunteers remembered him looking “frail” and “very neglected”. He fell into a coma after the heart attack and died in hospital shortly afterwards.
Catrina is thought to have been in her twenties and was one of three people sleeping rough, sofa-surfing or vulnerably housed in Newham who died between late May and early June this year.
Very little is known about her life before she became homeless, but in March this year she was one of 20 people to be hurriedly placed in a Newham B&B that had been jointly located by Lola’s and the council. A volunteer recalled personally lifting her up off the ground to place her on the minibus.
It is understood that Catrina had problems with alcohol, and died in the company of her family.
5. Paul Andrews
Mr Andrews was in his sixties and had become homeless after the death of his mother. He was working in a furniture store and had just found accommodation when he passed away in June.
He was remembered by homeless friends as a “diamond” and a selfless figure who regularly looked after other rough sleepers, even helping shop staff at the Stratford Centre with their daily duties.
Mr Andrews had intervened to help two boys injured in an acid attack at the centre on September 23 last year.
One of the boys’ mothers, Justine Turvey, raised more than £1,400 to help find him bed and board after the attack, saying at the time: “Generosity works both ways, and after all, we could all quite easily end up in his position as things do not always go as planned.”
Mr Andrews was cremated at 9am on Tuesday this week at City of London Crematorium, Manor Park. An inquest into Mr Andrews’s death will be held on December 11.
A scrap metal dealer originally from Poland, “Robert” was described by charity workers as an “older gentleman” who had been known to them for about three years. His body was found in Star Lane Park in July, with charities receiving information about his death by word of mouth on July 17.
7. Name unknown
It is understood that a man was found dead on the Barking Road in March this year. No further details could be obtained.
8. Name unknown
It is understood that another man was found dead in Plashet Park, in August this year. No further details could be obtained.
Why we don’t know
When a homeless or vulnerably-housed person dies, it can be very difficult for friends or people who have looked after them over the years to find out what has happened to them.
Police cannot search their logs without a precise location and date, and the electronic system used by coroners’ officers in London only allows them to search the public record if they have a full name.
Although since 2014 many London-based organisations have started to use the CHAIN database, an initiative started by St Mungo’s to log and keep track of people who might be sleeping rough; many grassroots organisations such as those working in the Stratford Centre do not have access to the system. Some of the people mentioned in this article lay in hospital morgues for weeks with no details recorded.
Newham Council’s safeguarding adults team had been made aware of five deaths since January.
A spokeswoman said all five had been subject to some form of review to explore the circumstances and learn from the deaths. The results will not be made public.
She added: “This administration has committed itself to treating homeless people with the care and respect they deserve and that includes understanding the circumstances surrounding their deaths.
“Reporting arrangements are in place with our safeguarding team to allow the council to review the deaths of people from homeless community.
“In each identified case we undertake an assessment of the circumstances across departments, and where applicable across different local authorities.”
Next week: How many more? We report from the Stratford Centre and find out what is being done in Newham to combat the issue.
If you know more about any of the people above and would like to add some information to our article please contact Hannah Somerville at email@example.com or call 020 7433 0122.