Theatre staff pay tribute to ‘kind and gentle’ homeless man

Shrine for rough sleeper who sat outside Strand building with his dog for 15 years

Friday, 8th March 2019 — By Helen Chapman


Nick Shemmings, who died during the past week, sitting on the street with his dog Bear

FLOWERS, a wreath and candles have been laid for a “kind and gentle” homeless man who sat outside the Adelphi Theatre with his beloved dog Bear for 15 years.

The man, named by friends as Nick Shemmings and believed to have been 48 years old, was popular with staff at the West End theatre on the Strand.

A tribute at the shrine said: “Nick was such a kind and gentle man. We hope you rest in peace. With love from the whole team at The Adelphi Theatre.”

His death, within the past week, has sparked cries for more homeless provision and for a more caring attitude toward long-term homeless on Westminster’s streets. It comes in the week that council leader Nickie Aiken was filmed in a BBC documentary calling for greater powers for immigration officials to “scoop up” European homeless people and deport them.

The council said it believed Mr Shemmings had died in Southwark, and that he did not regularly sleep rough in Westminster.

Lavane Blackham, 36, who was made homeless three years ago and got to know Nick, told the Extra: “Quite often the authorities would come and try and clear us off the streets; but the Adelphi Theatre staff were always kind. They always supported Nick and stuck up for him and he was never moved. He was funny and caring. If anyone was in trouble he would help. He was gentle. I miss him.”

The shrine outside the Adelphi

An employee at The Porterhouse, behind the Adelphi Theatre, said: “I used to stop and give his dog biscuits and offer him a sandwich. He sat there all the time and most of the time was reading. He was such a peaceful man. I hope his dog is OK and is being looked after.”

Last December a homeless man who slept in Westminster tube station was taken to hospital where he died. Another homeless man died outside the House of Commons during a cold spell in February 2018, triggering a debate in parliament.

Westminster had the highest number of homeless deaths in the country in 2015, when there were 19, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Nearly 600 homeless died in 2017 in England and Wales, according to government figures.

The average life expectancy of a homeless person in the UK is 43 years which is half of that of a settled person.

Jon Glackin, who runs the Streets Kitchen charity which feeds and clothes homeless people, said: “There’s been an increase of homelessness because there is a lack of provision and care to people. It’s become the normal thing to see people on the streets.

“There are so many empty buildings. If we could put that into immediate use we could have a solution. People are dying outside of empty buildings. It is ridiculous.

“If there were this many cats and dogs dying in the streets there would be a public outcry. There has been a process of dehumanisation. Homeless people end up becoming just another statistic.”

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