74 year old Cardon Banfield, who tragically passed away and decomposed in a tent this summer, is the latest victim of the shambles that is Worcester City and Worcestershire county’s homeless provision.
I am SICK of not hearing someone taking part-responsibility around Mr Banfield’s death, why homelessness is so bad and the ever-rotating rhetoric that money is running out and we need more.
We all know that services are being reduced, we have all seen the effects of it – but homelessness isn’t like bin collections or road markings… This is PEOPLE’S LIVES and we should respect them. Yet, homeless services get decimated by an austerity agenda which has seen numerous deaths, and worse, suicides from around the country and in Worcestershire.
This is not me or my Campaign sticking up for one provider or another, siding with just one argument or not able to listen to different arguments – this is a simple call for justice: Justice for Cardon Banfield and all the couple of hundred of homeless people around Worcestershire who suffer at the hands of untrusting workers, struggling services, incompetency at the hands of Elected Politicians and tax-paid Civil Servants and lack of co-ordination.
Over the last five years, we have had a legacy of the Supporting People programme sitting in the Worcestershire Homelessness Strategy, but during that period the large amounts of money diminished and co-ordination of services suffered the biggest blow. The Worcestershire LinkUp Database was a place where all clients who accessed homeless support would have their story, support and records in one place and available to all services went in 2014. This removed the joined up approach which Government recommended, Serious Case Reviews have pointed out and other Local Authority areas have in place.
Last year when ‘Hugo’s Earthquake’ was at infancy stage, I campaigned very hard against the City Council to firstly apologise for the comment that rough sleeping is a lifestyle choice but just as importantly, get a Homeless Forum which would join up all the services and put them around a table to discuss provision.
Worcester has a very high number of housing and support services per capita, but some of the highest homeless figures for a Shire per capita… There are many duplications of services but also gaps in provision and this isn’t good enough because vulnerable people are suffering – and have suffered.
It is indisputable that Cardon should have had better support around him – namely an Outreach Team but it tragically got decimated between February and April 2016 by Worcester City Council. CCP obtained the contract and refused to challenge it, knowing full well that rough sleeping is a huge issue in the City because of the 2015 November rough sleeper count figures. The horrific circumstances of someone decomposing in a tent and smelling so bad only then someone noticed, cannot go without part or whole responsibility being taken by Worcester Conservatives who ran the City Council at the time of the Contract being written, CCP for not having him on their books or Maggs Day Centre for categorically failing to pass on information or signpost to get Mr Banfield help for his problems.
Rough sleeping isn’t just about trying to get someone into a spare bed, but instead trying to build a positive relationship with them so they can, when they see fit and not the worker, get support and help for their issues. By both results and research, an Outreach Team with qualified workers (both from experience and formal training) is the only sustainable method of supporting Britain’s rough sleepers into accommodation and getting achievable, measurable outcomes for them.
Although I kick myself for using that word ‘outcomes’, because it suggests vulnerable people who are 6 times more likely to commit suicide compared to the general population, are just pawns in a game of workers getting wages at the end of the month. Where has the humanity in the system gone? We have a collection of people whose first priority is the money, and not the homeless person bedding down on the concrete pillow that night. That is fundamentally wrong, and in Worcestershire at least – I will work tirelessly hard to change it.
Mr Banfield might have indeed died from natural causes, however the system that the taxpayers contribute to let him down because no one raised the question of “where’s Cardon lately?”. That very question epitomises the massive issue I have with Worcester City Council Politicians & Officers, CCP and Maggs:
Maggs’ Chief Executive Mel Kirk claims that the organisation doesn’t keep track of their service users because of “lack of statutory funding”, CCP’s Deputy Chief Executive Dave Jones admitted to me on in a phone conversation that they did not know of Cardon Banfield in their new ‘Homeless Prevention Service’ and Worcester City Council claim they just didn’t know of him at all.
When you are paid to deliver a service, and you are in an area of work as human-centered as homelessness support is, IT IS DISGRACEFUL AND INEXCUSABLE to single-handedly or collectively hide behind money or ignorance at the expense of a human being’s life and consequent loss of. And yes, I will name and shame these people and proud to blow the lid on it – because if only;
- Worcester City Council’s Housing Department (led by Nina Warrington) had initiated this Homeless Forum earlier, wrote a Tender which was fit for the issues Worcester faces in terms of rough sleeping, but in line with the money available and facilitated some sort of information-sharing hub…
- Maggs Day Centre had a culture amongst staff of knowing who they are working with, asked them simple but information-heavy questions and reported them on a update-able database and
- CCP spending time getting to know service-users, their sleeping or crowd hotspots and not administering the culture of ‘they will come to us when they need help, but if they don’t they can stay out there’
we might have had a better and healthier outcome for an elderly gentleman sleeping on the banks of the River Severn.
In their Contract written and awarded by Worcester City Council, CCP have got to legally deliver a “light touch” service to rough sleepers and “reduce accident admissions to A&E departments” – but neither ‘light touch’ or ‘accident’ are defined, and that leaves the terms open to abuse, interpretation and lack of accountability.
Having these obscurities in a service that deals with upset, traumatised and vulnerable people, many of whom don’t know the system anyway, is only ever going to run reasonably well (whilst being very high risk) for a limited time.
The simple facts are; the Homeless Forum I successfully campaigned for should have been set up earlier and working with agencies to discuss duplications and gaps, the Contract should have been scrutinised by Political Parties before authorising, a better analysis of services for rough sleepers happened by the Council Officers, Maggs Day Centre should have kept even a small record of Mr Banfield’s movements and connections (and referred to CCP), and CCP should have publically defined what “light touch” meant, and if that has changed in light of Cardon Banfield’s death.
There are many people who have ties to – what I called it at the beginning of this piece – shambles of homeless services in Worcester City and the county as a whole, and I will spend whatever amount of time, for however long I need to make sure the situation is rectified. Nothing anyone does can bring Cardon back, but we can make sure he did not die and left to decompose and rot in vain.
Just in the last few days, I have personally submitted for a Freedom of Information Request of the CCP bid and promises of delivery to the Contract, initiated the Contract to go to the City Council’s Scrutiny Panel immediately by the Worcester Conservative Party and written to the Worcestershire written, televised and radio press about this issue.
I graduated with a Youth and Community Work Degree on Thursday because I stand up for the ones who have little or no voice. Communities, individuals or young people it doesn’t matter – what matters is a human life worth the same as the next person’s and that if one gets lost, a responsibility and accountability lies somewhere. It’s in my values, ethics and morals to stand up for a gentleman who made mistakes, didn’t behave the best but who got pushed out because of many different reasons but to make it all worse – was left to die in the most disgusting and vile way in a modern society. No one should end their life like that, ever.
I will not back down, I will not silence, I will not hold back and I promise a Worcestershire Homeless Forum, a better Outreach Service and Justice for Cardon will be delivered eventually. And whilst someone sleeping in a tent should not happen in this country, a death on our streets is abhorrent, disgraceful and has no place ever in Worcestershire or beyond.