The Independent London Newspaper
23rd May 2019

NEW JOURNAL COMMENT: How many more street deaths before action is taken?

    Two off-duty medics saved a homeless man at Britannia Junction

    Two off-duty medics saved a homeless man at Britannia Junction whose heart had stoppped in February

    Published: 28 July, 2016

    THE sight of a man, out cold and crumpled into the hard stone steps of NatWest bank this week, must make us stop to think.

    His was the kind of “looped and windowed raggedness” that William Shakespeare so eloquently described of his fallen monarch, King Lear. 

    Many walked past. A few smiled, and snatched a quick photo on their phone. One man announced to a growing crowd that his heart was still pumping. He was “okay”.

    And yet, he still did not flinch or flick a muscle when concerned passers-by shook and pinched his arms, hoping for a response.

    Had it not been for a public-spirited junior doctor the man would, surely, have lain there sprawled out in the searing heat for another hour. He was eventually revived, but others have not been so lucky.

    A homeless man died on the steps of the same bank earlier this month. Another in Mornington Crescent last autumn. And Enda Murray in September. Many others have been brought back from the brink in similar circumstances, and on full show in broad daylight. 

    This visible degradation of our homeless neighbours has becoming alarmingly familiar in recent months. And yet there is no genuine attempt to understand it.

    When a pattern of cyclist deaths emerged on the streets of London in recent years, the Mayor’s Office took action. If there is a spate of deaths in a particular hospital, police cells, or in a secure mental health unit, a regulatory probe will be launched. But for our neighbours on the street there is no response. 

    Where is Camden Town Unlimited? The body was set up to make Camden High Street more attractive to shoppers and tourists. Where is Camden Council? Little is said by our elected councillors, who seem more preoccupied with Labour’s NEC rules and other petty politics at the moment. 

    We need some sort of inquiry into what is happening in Camden Town right now, and with a remit to bring about change. 

    An official body, perhaps with a police representative on board, could make a genuine attempt to understand what appears to be a growing problem. 

    Some have raised questions about the availability of “legal highs” or the entrenchment of “super-strength” alcohol. There is an obvious shortage of housing and also hostel places are at a premium. The emergency services are stretched to breaking point. The Safer Streets team, funded by the council, are out there doing the best they can. But those who get woken up, patched up and moved on are soon back where they started and in the same predicament.

    What happens when a junior doctor isn’t passing by? How many more will be pushed to the edge before our authorities start to act?