The Homeless Fund: Popular homeless woman ‘could have been saved with more support for female rough sleepers’

‘She had so little but gave so much. She never asked us for anything, she just showed true humanity’

Harriet Brewis
Thursday 21 November 2019 15:23 GMT
Stefania Bada died days before her 42nd birthday
Stefania Bada died days before her 42nd birthday

A friend of a popular homeless woman who died on the streets in southeast London said more support for female rough sleepers could have saved her life.

Stefania Bada, who had health complications, died days before her 42nd birthday, leaving a community wondering if they could have done more to help their “much-loved friend”.

Her death on 3 July was greeted with sadness in Forest Hill, where she was a familiar face among commuters using the underpass at the station.

“She had so little but gave so much. She never asked us for anything, she just showed true humanity,” said the Rev Edd Stock of Sydenham’s Holy Trinity Church.

Tributes left for Stefania in the underpass at Forest Hill station

He, along with fellow locals, would stop to chat to Stefania. The Italian was known for her infectious smile and eagerness to help anyone in need, whether by assisting the elderly or carrying buggies for young mothers.

About 300 people attended a memorial service at Sydenham School, which featured tributes from those who knew her, including songs and poems picked by her countless friends.

“We couldn’t read out everyone’s messages,” the vicar explained. “So we created a postbox so people could ‘send’ postcards to Stefania.

“We received more than 300, which we then sent to her mother in Italy. She was so happy.”

Thanks to an online GoFundMe campaign, more than £8,000 was raised by those who knew Stefania.

This not only funded the memorial service but the repatriation of Stefania’s remains to her family in northern Italy, after Mr Stock contacted them through Facebook.

Stefania came over from Italy around nine years ago

Stefania’s friend and fellow Forest Hill resident, Martin Andersen, said she had hoped to go back to her motherland one day, having become estranged from her parents over recent years.

“Just a month before her death, I said to her, ‘I’ll get you a passport and we’ll go see your mum’.”

Sadly, they never made it.

Mr Andersen, a filmmaker and photographer, spent two months shadowing Stefania for a documentary-style music video for Danish band Lowly.

During their time together he found out more about his friend, including how she came over to the UK from Italy around nine years ago with her then partner to try to forge a new life.

She spent time working as a cleaner in Honour Oak Park, Lewisham, before the relationship broke up and she moved to Sydenham, where she met a new man, David Wozniak.

Together, the pair found work in a butchers and lived in a flat, during what Mr Andersen described as the “happiest time of her life”.

When this fell apart, the couple began rough sleeping in Forest Hill.

Her personal demons and struggles with addiction never stopped her from showing warmth and kindness to all, the filmmaker said.

“Stefania brightened up our community,” he added. “She was such an intelligent, compassionate and empathetic person – she always had a glint in her eye.”

Stefania Bada died on the streets in southeast London

He said: “Short-term aid is great – providing food and warm clothes – but Stefania was vulnerable and needed long-term support.

“We did what we could, but she needed professional help. She needed access to holistic care, from people qualified to give her treatments and guidance.

“If she had had access to a 24-hour women’s centre, I don’t think she would have died.”

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