Most people walking through Westminster tube station on Wednesday will have noticed nothing out of the ordinary. Tourists sauntered through as commuters rushed by. Few will have questioned that a homeless man wasn’t sitting in his usual place inside Exit 3.
But the unidentified man’s body had been found at that spot just hours before. Outreach services attempted to give him CPR until paramedics and police arrived. Shortly after 7am, he was pronounced dead.
This homeless man’s death, which took place less than a dozen yards from an entrance to Parliament, quickly became a highly politicised talking point on social media. “We should all be ashamed,” wrote one Labour MP, “that Westminster – a world heritage site – is also a place homeless people are forced to try to stay warm.”
Yet the underpass remained quiet and unchanged for the next 10 hours, with nothing to commemorate the space he had occupied.
As evening drew in, flowers were eventually laid. The Labour leader led the tributes, leaving a card bearing the handwritten message: “This should never have happened. As a country we must stop walking by.”
Jeremy Corbyn, whose team are said to have regularly given the man hot food on their way into work, expanded his reaction on Twitter, accusing the “powerful” of “walking by on the other side while people don’t have a home to call their own”.
“It’s time all MPs took up this moral challenge and properly housed everyone,” he urged.
The fact that the man died in the cold quite literally beneath the Government has granted the incident some attention. But those who experience homelessness themselves know that in reality, such deaths are by no means uncommon.
“I’m not shocked anymore,” David Holland, 64, currently sleeping rough around Charring Cross not far from Parliament, told The Independent. “A man died just round the corner the other day. When you see what I see, you know people just give up.
“The support isn’t there. I’m just about getting by. But I see so many people who reach breaking point. This can easily be avoided.”
The death comes amid a surge in the number of rough sleepers across England, which has seen a 73 per cent increase over the last three years. On any given night in autumn last year, 4,751 people were recorded sleeping on the streets, a figure that has more than doubled since 2010.
Jon Glackin, a former rough sleeper who is the founder of Street Kitchen, which provides meals for homeless people, urged that the latest death is one of many.
“It’s getting far too common. This one is poignant because it was outside the Houses of Parliament. But I’ve already been to three funerals of homeless people this year. There is no need for this,” he said.
“It’s beyond breaking point. All services are over-subscribed, services are closing down left right and centre. Everybody seems to think the problem was solved over Christmas. It’s gone out of the public spotlight but it’s becoming worse than ever.”
Mr Glackin is now calling for “no more deaths on our streets”, with a protest outside Downing Street on 3 March in a bid to prevent more people from dying ”needlessly”.
Westminster City Council has described the incident as a “very sad incident” and pledged they would work with police to establish the cause of death.
A Metropolitan Police spokesperson said the death was being treated as “unexplained but not suspicious”. A file will now be prepared for the coroner.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies