Birmingham & Black Country

Birmingham's homeless 'living in ruthless conditions'

Kane Walker Image copyright Helping the Homeless in Birmingham
Image caption Kane Walker's death has left his friends "devastated"

Friends of a homeless man who died on a city centre street have said he was a victim of the "ruthless conditions" faced by rough sleepers.

Kane Walker was found in cardiac arrest near the Bullring shopping centre in Birmingham.

Homeless people in the city told the BBC conditions were "desperate" during the freezing weather.

Following Mr Walker's death, MP Liam Byrne called homelessness across England "a moral emergency".

Mr Walker, who had been assisted by Helping the Homeless, was found by paramedics in Pershore Street on Sunday.

Police said his death was not being treated as suspicious and had been referred to the coroner.

Charity Hope in Birmingham said: "This should not be happening on the streets of our city."

The city council said it was "working hard with partners to reduce rough sleeping and homelessness".

A floral tribute has been left outside Grand Central shopping centre by charity Helping Hands of Birmingham.

Mr Walker's friend, Kev, 44, said he was "devastated" at his death.

"Kane was one of my close friends. I'm devastated. I feel numb, completely shocked and just so sad about it," he said.

"I can't believe he's gone to be honest. I would describe what it's like out here as ruthless. It's bloody cold."

Image caption Kev said he was "completely shocked" by the death of his friend

James Turner, 41, from Sheldon, told the BBC he had been on the streets since June last year.

He said: "It's desperate out here at the moment, that's how I would describe it.

"I tried to get into a hostel yesterday but they had no space, it was completely packed."

Mr Turner added: "[Mr Walker] was just left in the street to die, nobody wanted to help him did they?"

Image caption Flowers have been left in tribute to Kane Walker

New official estimates showed there were 4,677 people sleeping rough in England in autumn 2018.

The chief executive of Crisis, Jon Sparkes, said it was "a damning reflection of our society" that there were so many rough sleepers across the country.

Mr Byrne, the MP for Hodge Hill, addressed Prime Minister Theresa May in the House of Commons following Mr Walker's death.

He said more than 1,200 homeless people had died in the past five years and the "scale of homelessness" was "a moral emergency".

In response, Mrs May said the government wanted everyone to have "a safe and secure home", with no-one on the streets.

"We recognise the importance of this, that's why we're putting money into it, that's why we're taking action," she said.

Mr Byrne later released a video on Twitter calling for a "winter of compassion".

Councillor Sharon Thompson, Birmingham's cabinet member for homes and neighbourhoods, said: "Like councils across the country, Birmingham City Council is working hard with partners to reduce rough sleeping and homelessness, but more importantly to tackle the underlying issues that contribute towards people becoming homeless in the first place."

The authority said 135 spaces had been made available through its cold weather provision which was triggered once the temperature reached 0C.

A Severe Weather Emergency Provision (SWEP) protocol is initiated whenever there is a yellow weather warning in place, or when temperatures "feel like" 0C or below.

This aims to reach harder-to-reach rough sleepers by opening up rest rooms at hostels.

In 2018, Birmingham received £405,878 of rough sleeper initiative funding, with a further £500,000 expected in 2019.

More than 40 rough sleepers have been put into new homes and given support through the West Midlands Housing First pilot, a combination of councils coming together to tackle the problem.

The council said if anyone was concerned about someone sleeping rough, they should contact StreetLink which will send an alert to an outreach team who will meet them and encourage them to take up offers of support.

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