Shocking report leads to major changes after death of five men living on the streets of Halifax

A shocking report which details how five men who led street based lives died is leading to fundamental changes to the way in which Calderdale agencies handle similar cases in the future.

Thursday, 3rd June 2021, 11:45 am

The Burnt Bridges report shocked councillors commenting on an early draft earlier this year and its recommendations have already begun to be put in place with some early tangible improvements, although some of its full benefits might not be felt for some decades.

Although there was no requirement for a review to be undertaken, the circumstances in which the five men – referred to in the report as Peter, Jason, Lenny, Pat and Zeb – died within a four month period during the winter of 2018-19 led Calderdale Council to request an investigation, with an 80-page report produced by Niamh Cullen, the council’s Public Health Manager (Drugs and Alcohol), for Calderdale Safeguarding Adults Board.

Four out of the five also had severe drug and, or, alcohol issues, some of which masked other medical issues.

Calderdale Council leader Councillor Tim Swift

It examines what actions can be taken to reduce the chance of similar things happening again – the men had multiple and complex needs involving a number of agencies including health services, emergency services and social and private housing issues, and had suffered trauma at some point in their lives.

Peter, whose remains were found near old railway lines, did not fit the profile of the other four men.

Jason died in hospital a day after being diagnosed with bilateral pneumonia and possible septicaemia.

Lenny was found dead outside a retail outlet in Halifax and was suspected of having overdosed.

Pat died in hospital from staphylococcus aureus bacteraemia, a groin abscess, a septic arterial embolism and deep vein thrombosis of a lower limb.

Zeb was found dead in a canal by a dog walker.

Calderdale Council’s Cabinet will be asked on June 7 to accept what has been learned through the report and require other groups to act on its findings to improve the lives of people who might find themselves in difficulty.

At the same meeting, they are also expected to approve a strategy and associated action plan for homelessness and rough sleeping.

Leader of the council, Coun Tim Swift (Lab, Town) said the report is difficult and sometimes harrowing to read but was a significant piece of work highlighting the challenges each of the men faced.

“Our thoughts are with the families and friends of the men, referred to in the report as Peter, Jason, Lenny, Pat and Zeb, who were valued members of our community.

“Each had multiple and complex needs, such as mental health, trauma or drug and alcohol misuse, which made it more difficult for services to respond to them with the care and support they needed.

“This is clear within the recommendations of the report and has been acknowledged by each of the organisations involved, the council, our NHS, police and housing colleagues.

“Collectively we can and must do better,” he said.

Coun Swift said the developing Community Cares system of delivering services more locally would be important and the report highlighted instances where non-agency people, including a manager at Halifax McDonald’s who had given one of the men a job, a security staff member at Sainsbury’s who had helped one, and a cafe owner who had helped another, had been deeply concerned and tried to help.

Independent chair of Calderdale Safeguarding Adults Board, Marianne Huison, said the council’s Vision2024 highlighted this kindness and the COVID-19 pandemic had shown how important the community had been, stepping up to the plate.

She said a number of common themes had come out of the report which could be used to provide support to people, and to provide appropriate training for agencies’ staff.

Going ahead, services will need to show greater flexibility and the aim will be that they are proactive, handling issues at an earlier stage.

“If looking at their lives helps us change things for the better, then something good will come out of these really tragic circumstances.

“It is already making a difference and the difference we can make is more far reaching than a review would normally make,” said Ms Huison.

The result was a very detailed action plan, gathering of information, auditing progress and “challenge” events to make sure agreed actions were in place.

Ms Huison warned that while some tangible benefits were now in place, including a complex needs worker in place to help navigate people in similar positions through the system, the opening of the eight-bed multiple and complex need housing project Craven Mount in Halifax, housing and homelessness services leading work with many different agencies and a private landlord to tackle “hot spot” areas with a concentration of problems, and Public Health England funding enabling the council to recruit staff to support improving service for those with complex needs with a focus on harm reduction.

Prevention would be crucial, identifying and dealing with issues – for example, the trauma the men had suffered earlier in their lives – which meant changes were for the long term.

“We are trying to enrich their lives, making sure they are getting services and also identifying the gaps.

“We are not alone – 2018 was a national peak for homelessness.

“Nonetheless, it is not just getting people off the street but enabling them to lead a full life.

“It will be a continuing piece of work but some of the changes are tangible, services where there weren’t services, things being done that were not being done.

“We are not going to solve this problem overnight, until we get the prevention work right, which might be 20, 30, 40 years before we see that completed.

“We can do better and help them lead better, longer, healthier and more fruitful lives so they are not turning to drugs to just get them through the day,” she said.

One of the saddest stories in the report was a man who shared a tent with one of the men saying the only thing that had made the man happy was drugs, said Ms Huison.

The complexity of the men’s issues was a common theme which meant they could not walk into one of the agencies and say “my issue is ‘x'” and it could be dealt with – each man had a number of different needs.

Good practice would be kept but the report was about changing people’s ideas and perceptions, said Ms Huison.

Penny Woodhead, Calderdale Clinical Commissioning Group’s chief quality and nursing officer, said she had heard it said that people are hard to reach but one thing the report taught was that it was services that were hard to reach.

There were instances where the men had sought some types of help but with no overall picture.

Services needed professionally to go to people rather than people coming to them – people needed help to navigate services.

“There is a point around education for the workers to think about how they engage and are more professionally curious, tenacious and determined not to lose sight of people,” she said.

If you are concerned about someone sleeping rough in Calderdale, please call 07584 015756.

Ms Huison said the national figures for the life expectancy of people who led street based lives was startling – around 44 years for men and 42 for women, where men would normally be expected to live to 76 and women to 81.