‘Significant increase’ in homeless people sleeping in bins

Seven people, including rough sleepers and revellers, died in bins between 2013 and 2018

Chiara Giordano
Monday 24 February 2020 16:44 GMT
Waste collector describes moment he thought he had crushed rough sleeper in bin

More rough sleepers are putting their lives at risk by sheltering in bins as homelessness rises across the UK, a report has found.

Waste companies and homelessness charities are calling for a new nationally agreed approach to prevent deaths and near misses following a number of cases involving rough sleepers and revellers accidentally being tipped into refuse lorries.

Seven members of the public are known to have died in bins between 2013 and 2018, including both rough sleepers and people on nights out, according to Health and Safety Executive figures.

The issue of waste collectors discovering people inside bins has increased to 35 per cent of waste companies in the last year, compared to 21 per cent in 2014.

According to the research, the practice is now common all year round, rather than just in winter, according to a new study by waste management company Biffa, the Open University and the Chartered Institute of Waste Management.

According to the report, research by homelessness charity Crisis and Heriot-Watt University estimated that in 2017 12,300 people were rough sleeping across the UK (11,000 in England) at any one time compared to 7,250 in 2014.

“The over-riding conclusion therefore is that homelessness has significantly increased since 2014,” it added.

The report follows a number of high-profile cases involving revellers seeking temporary shelter.

Sunderland man Jay McLaren was found dead at a recycling plant on Christmas Eve in 2017 after climbing into a commercial bin during a night out.

An inquest concluded the 28-year-old father’s death, from a combination of head and chest injuries, was an accident.

Last year, a 47-year-old homeless man also died from an infected artery after his legs were severely crushed when he was tipped into a refuse lorry in Kent.

The Independent has seen footage provided by Biffa of waste collectors discovering a man sleeping inside a bin in Norwich last Monday, and another of a near miss in a car park.

One of the company’s drivers in Warwick said he was once left fearing he had crushed someone to death after a man climbed into a commercial recycling bin.

Recalling the events, the worker, named Steve, said: “I got out the cab, checked the bin, gave it a kicking and all of that.

“As I moved on to the next job, I looked in the camera and I thought something’s not quite right there, something’s moving inside the back of the lorry.

A rough sleeper emerges from a waste unit
A rough sleeper emerges from a waste unit (Biffa)

“The next thing I knew, I was seeing a hand move up and my heart went in my mouth, it really did.

“The emergency services arrived and eventually they got him out the top and said he’s going to be fine.

“My main concern was for the safety of the chap because I’d completely crushed the whole load.”

Another worker in Cardiff also avoided a potential death after noticing the bin he was pulling towards his truck felt heavier than it should.

When he opened the bin and moved some cardboard aside he discovered a man asleep underneath.

Biffa is now trialling “human detection technology”, which will monitor temperature and carbon dioxide levels in its bins.

Michael Topham, chief executive of Biffa, said the issue of people sleeping in bins is as important now as when the company published its first report in 2014.

He added: “Sadly, the numbers of homeless people have risen dramatically since our first report, making action in this area all the more urgent.

“We are committed to raising the profile of this issue in the industry and developing policies and procedures for widespread adoption to prevent further tragedies.”

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, told The Independent: “What does it say about our society when our fellow citizens are forced to sleep in bins?

“This is the truly awful cost of our housing emergency. No one should be so desperate for shelter that they have to risk their lives bedding down in a bin.”

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, told The Independent: “It is utterly tragic and frankly inhumane that people sleeping rough are forced to seek shelter in a bin to stay warm and dry.

“While increased awareness and training for those working in waste collection is positive, the onus should not really sit at their door.

“As a society, we need to be focused on the causes forcing people into this kind of homelessness in the first place.”

Petra Salva, director of rough sleepers at St Mungo’s, described people dying while homeless as “an absolutely tragedy”.

She added: “Terrible fatalities occur when people seek refuge in bins. We think it’s unacceptable that people are forced to sleep rough in the first place but almost unthinkable that people are so desperate that they will seek refuge in bin containers.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government added: “It is completely unacceptable that anyone should have to face sleeping in these conditions in modern Britain.

“This does not reflect the society we should be and this why we have committed to ending rough sleeping by the end of this parliament.”

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