Two men who died in a Kidderminster B&B this summer are among at least 449 people across the UK whose lives ended this year while homeless or living in temporary accommodation.
The deaths of Terry Taylor, 53, and Michael Hill at the Lion Hotel in Bromsgrove Street came just two days apart, at the height of the summer heatwave.
Mr Taylor died of natural causes – it is understood he had been suffering from cancer – while the death of Mr Hill is being investigated by Worcestershire’s coroner. An inquest into the circumstances of his death will take place next January.
Their deaths would likely have gone unnoticed but for a fresh impetus among journalists to spotlight and record the deaths of homeless people sleeping rough or living in temporary accommodation.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, supported by a network of journalists and publications including Wyre Life, is seeking to investigate every homeless death across the UK.
National homeless charities Crisis and Shelter have also called for a central register of all homeless deaths in order to track causes and locations.
Terry Taylor had been living in a room at the Lion Hotel for over a year. Described by people who knew him as an ex soldier, he had ended up on the streets, a troubled and troubling alcholic.
Over the previous decade he’s been on an unrelenting treadmill of rough sleeping, drinking, crime and prison.
He’d been handed criminal anti-social behaviour orders because of his drunken activity in Worcester, Gloucester and Birmingham, and had spent considerable time in prison.
After his death on July 4 this year, hotel owner David Murdoch posted to a Kidderminster community facebook page amid speculation: “A good friend, ex soldier, has passed due to terminal illness. Nothing to do with drugs. Awful that people cannot let folks live or rest in peace.”
He added: “It’s a beautiful day. Take a walk and spend ten seconds smiling for a good old soul. He would appreciate that.”
Second death in two days
Two days later, on one of the hottest days of the year, Michael Hill was found dead in his room on the second floor.
Police and forensic experts descended on the hotel to investigate the death, amid concerns about how long Michael had been lying undiscovered.
There was a further complicating factor – just days earlier, June 27th, Michael had been arrested by armed officers in a swoop on the hotel and quizzed about a firearm-related threat against police made on social media. He was released after questioning.
Counting the deaths: why it matters
Responding to the Bureau’s work, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has said this week that it will start compiling and releasing its own official estimate – a huge step forward.
For months the ONS has been analysing and cross-checking the Bureau’s database to create its own methodology for estimating homeless deaths, and plans to produce first-of-their-kind statistics in December this year.
A spokesperson said the information provided by the Bureau “helps us develop the most accurate method of identifying all the deaths that should be counted.”
Analysis of government figures shows the number of people housed in bed and breakfast hotels in England and Wales increased by a third between 2012 and 2018, with the number of children and pregnant women in B&Bs and hostels rising by more than half.
“Unstable and expensive private renting, crippling welfare cuts and a severe lack of social housing have created this crisis,” said Shelter’s CEO Polly Neate. “To prevent more people from having to experience the trauma of homelessness, the government must ensure housing benefit is enough to cover the cost of rents, and urgently ramp up its efforts to build many more social homes.”
The sheer scale of people dying due to poverty and homelessness was horrifying, said Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes.“This is a wake-up call to see homelessness as a national emergency,” he said.
Our full investigation into the deaths in Kidderminster also looked at the frequency of police attendance at the Lion Hotel, local authority spending at the premises, and the services provided for residents.
We invited owner David Murdoch to contribute to the feature but he declined.