Name that shames us this Christmas, says ANNE DIAMOND

Name that shames us this Christmas, says ANNE DIAMOND

As a civilised country we should feel a deep sense of shame that Gyula Remes, a youngish man, died in the cold, yards from our own Parliament, only a few days short of Christmas. And it's not a question of statistics being manipulated to create a scandal where there is none. If such a miserable, cold and lonely death happens to only one poor soul, then that's enough to prove the point.

And it did - and it is happening all the time. Nearly 600 homeless people died on the streets last year, according to government figures.

This man was only 43, and the fact that he was discovered dying in an underpass near Westminster at Christmas time has made him "famous" for a brief 10 minutes, in the most awful of ways.

People such as Jeremy Corbyn have left flowers and messages at the spot where he was found.

Instead of being just an anonymous figure, we now know his name, his Portuguese background, the fact that he was a former model who had recently applied for a job as a waiter.

Gyula Remes

Gyula Remes died yards away from parliament (Image: Facebook)

In fact, he'd been job-hunting up until last week. One charity that knew him said that he had "complex circumstances" but "enjoyed singing and regularly attended yoga classes.

”He had strengths, talents and skills but also problems," they said.

We almost feel we know him now. He's a rounded individual with a name and personality, not just a rolled up bundle of blankets and cardboard on a street corner. We can care about him now. We can mourn his loss and pity his fate and wonder what brought him to this.

But of course, it's all too late. He is gone. And now the issue of freezing cold homelessness and rough sleeping can again become an anonymous, depersonalised matter that we can shrug off, kick into the long grass of studies, inquiries and surveys.

How does the next person have to die, how poignant must his story be before we all wake up to this awful everyday tragedy and see it as a national emergency?


Floral tributes lay outside the Parliament entrance near Westminster underground station (Image: PA)

Jeremy Corbyn tweeted that the powerful cannot just go on walking by while people don't have a home of their own.

Theresa May acknowledged it was a tragedy.

The Housing Secretary James Brokenshire said any death on the streets was "one too many" adding that all members of Parliament "shared the sadness" at Mr Remes's death.

Heather Wheeler MP, the minister for housing the homeless, tweeted that "stories like this push me on to find solutions and work to eradicate rough sleeping for good".

Compassionate words, but it really isn't enough, is it?

A day after Mr Remes died outside Parliament, statistics showed deaths of rough sleepers and those in emergency accommodation rose from 482 in 2013 to 597 last year across England and Wales. In fact, another homeless man died in the same place during a freezing cold night in February.

Most rough sleepers are men and their life expectancy is bleak and hopelessly short. The average age for homeless men to die is 44 (it's 42 for women). And it's not good enough, either, to dismiss the causes of death as self-inflicted.

Officially, it's usually due to drug poisoning, liver disease, suicide, or accident. But the biggest reason people end up on the streets isn't any of those things - it is the abrupt ending of a private tenancy, rent arrears, debt.

They're kicked out, end up sofa surfing until they exhaust family and friends, and who can then blame them for self-medicating with drink and drugs?

In so many cases, drugs and alcohol are the result, not the cause of homelessness. Depression and mental illness also make homeless people undesirable to employers and landlords.

So there’s no way out. They face a hostile and uncaring world.

And so starts the distressing downward spiral to the pavement. And I think we all know, whatever political colour we may consider ourselves, that over many years, we simply haven't done enough when it comes to governmentfunded social action, and old-fashioned social housing.

Only we can change what appear to be hostile and uncaring attitudes. We can demand it of our government. It is up to us. We get the government we deserve, don't we?

At the moment we seem to have one almost paralysed by indecision over Brexit and incredulity over the way a drone can bring an entire airport to a standstill.

We are meant to be a welfare state, where we have policies in place to look after the weakest and poorest in our society. But the experts are telling us the safety net is threadbare. It needs urgent mending. No one should have to die alone and cold on a British street.

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