Last Saturday night, as temperatures plunged to -0.8C, his son Paul Williams, 38, bedded down at his regular spot outside the Wagamama restaurant in the city’s Bullring shopping centre. On Sunday, he failed to wake up. An initial post-mortem has proved inconclusive.
Father and son had not met for 15 years, their relationship having slowly corroded through Paul’s drinking.
Paul was not alone when he died on the pavement under a large vent that streams warm air downward from the restaurant, making it a desirable spot for street sleepers. Sleeping next to him was Alan McTaggart, 65, a former factory worker, who found himself on the streets three years ago when the death of his partner triggered depression and lost him his home.
If Paul got a place to stay, he would not take it if it meant leaving McTaggart on the streets alone. “And vice versa,” said McTaggart.
On the Tuesday before his death, Paul had been found a room through Rik James, the founder of BHO, who contacted support officers at Provident Housing. He had been given a duvet, a pillow and a box of toiletries. Provident Housing was trying to organise a bank account so that he could receive benefits.
On the Thursday, support officer Craig Parkin noticed Paul’s room emptied of his few possessions and his duvet. He asked if he still wanted the room. “Paul said ‘Yes, yes’. He got quite emotional,” said Parkin.
But Paul did not return to it. “He just wouldn’t leave Alan alone on the streets,” said James, “and I feared for them both.”
Not, in fact, needing to sleep on the streets.
As I’ve said before the rough sleeping contingent is made up of two groups. Those with mental health or addiction problems and those passing through the state on an extremely temporary basis. Further, the problem is not in fact in finding the long termers a roof under which they may lay their weary heads. It’s keeping them in it once one has been found.
Quite what we do about this is something else. It’s just not a shortage of roofs though is it?