For Rob O’Connor: A Homeless Man Who Froze To Death In Chelmsford City

rob o'connor
Rob O’Connor

I first met Rob after a gig by my favourite comedian Stewart Lee at Chelmsford’s Civic Theatre back in 2011.  Rob asked me for “50p for a cup of tea” which I was able to spare.  Over subsequent years I saw him lurking in a sorrowful state on several occasions and would give him cigarettes or spare change.  Sadly, this man, who was a rough sleeper, died a week ago from the horrendous tragedy of freezing to death on the streets.  Yes, you read it right – he froze to death in the 21st century.


Regarding reporting of this terrible event, the BBC initially took the same response I did – implying fury and outrage at the preventable death of a young man.  But then 2 days later, the BBC reneged on their outrage saying there was a shelter available not too far away from where Rob died that had spare space, and he could have stayed there.


Rob died outside of an Argos store that had shut down several months earlier, laying off a couple of dozen workers.  This building is quite big – sufficient to house all of Chelmsford’s homeless.  Yet the building was not requisitioned on the popular thoroughfare of Springfield Road by the Council, it has lain idle.  So, the irony is, Rob froze to death in the doorway of a building that is not even in use, yet had been shuttered.


Regarding the so-called “shelter” that Rob ‘could have’ used, this is 23-24 George Street.  It is about a 7 minute walk from where he died, and does not tolerate smoking inside, drink or drugs, that inevitably puts off many homeless, hence it is frequently running under full capacity.  Furthermore, it is run by Christians who offer advice regarding benefits you can claim with the ultimate intention of getting you into work.  But if it was the world of work that the homeless often despise due to various ‘mental health problems’ (as they are called) or other factors.  In short, who would want to stay in a shelter that just moralises at you to get a job?


Don’t get me wrong, the Christians who run the shelter are motivated by good intentions.  It is great they are there to offer help to those who don’t mind the nagging aspect to their care.  And technically it is true that Rob would not have died that night if he had availed himself of such benign charity.  But let’s face it, it is not an ideal situation.  Run the risk of freezing to death or suffer patronising Christians when you have no faith is a perilous choice to make.  Furthermore, Rob probably was staying out late to try and get more spare change from people coming out of nearby clubs.


The big problem which the BBC reportage has glossed over is that it shouldn’t be the responsibility of caring individuals, Christian or otherwise, to provide the necessary help.  It should be a responsibility of the Council.  Individuals are not duty-bound to provide care to the homeless, though it may tug on their heart-strings and is a noble act when they do.  But because those in need often resent the kind of care being offered, it would be better if a Council offered a neutral form of support, i.e. simply providing shelter for those who through no fault of their own have become homeless.  There could be leaflets regarding the claiming of benefits, but no mandatory interviews with Christian counsellors upon arrival.  And the temporary accommodation provided must allow the individual homeless person or family to do whatever they want, as too the rest of us should expect in our homes – to smoke, drink, take drugs, if that is your poison.


3D printing can now knock up reasonable temporary accommodation in the course of a few hours.  Why isn’t this technology being deployed to solve a pressing social problem?


Really this issue harks to the whole problem of private ownership over each and every building.  Surely at least some buildings should be exempt from this notion.  If allocated rationally, homelessness – a rising problem in all the ‘advanced’ countries – could be abolished overnight and deaths prevented.  When humanity’s desire to solve problems encounters a problem with ‘objective circumstances’, then it is time to change those circumstances.


Chelmsford Council might argue that unhindered free accommodation would just encourage more homeless to come here.  The image they are trying to create of the town centre – fashionable stores (that always seem to close down within 2 years) – is incompatible with the socialist cause.  They would say that housing the homeless sends a negative advertisement to the rest of the country.  But surely the real negative advertisement for a city is that people freeze to death within its jurisdiction.  Do they really want to amend the road signs: “Welcome to Chelmsford: Good luck!” or would it better to have a rational policy regarding homelessness that is not governed by the law of value for money?


One thought on “For Rob O’Connor: A Homeless Man Who Froze To Death In Chelmsford City

  1. CHESS is far from a christian run “charity”. Bishop Steven denies the church has any affiliation with CHESS, which stands for Church Homeless Emergency Support Shelter. Here is a letter I have sent to both Mr Burns when he was our MP, also Mrs Ford and many members of CCC including Mr Dick Madden. The main income CHESS has is from the housing benefit for the homeless they claim from the council, as do many other landlords.

    What is CHESS? It is Chelmsford’s largest homeless charity organisation as portrayed by a recent REALITY SWIPE film. This is the other side of the story that unfortunately was over looked by the mini documentary. I ask myself whilst viewing the documentary some simple questions. If CHESS trustees and staff care so much for the services users in their charge – why was a young mother with a two week old baby that had been hospitalised twice due to a lung condition forced to leave the child outside in the snow in a pram? CHESS staff refused to allow the child inside the shelter. The answer given from the CEO stated that the child may overhear talk about drugs and or drink. Why are service users forced from the night shelter at 23/24 George Street against their will when feeling unwell? Where is the charity in these acts? No medical help is offered, they are simply thrown out onto the street from 09.00 to 17.00 (at one time it was 19.00). If the service user complains about this treatment they are told that they should call an ambulance if they are incapable of making their own way to the A & E department. Complaining is futile, all residents have a choice, do as they are told or go back on the streets.

    There was another incident that can be argued was not a charitable act, the death of a regular user of the day shelter. This person suddenly stopped coming to the shelter. When it was brought to the attention of CHESS staff that maybe someone should check the gentleman was alright due to him being a creature of habit. Staff said that they did not have the time to waste on checking on individuals in this manner. After 3 weeks of being told that the staff of CHESS would not check on this person, a home visit was made by 2 individuals. The letter box was opened to see in. Fly’s swarmed out of the letter box. According to the police the person had been dead for around 3 weeks. Had CHESS staff acted when the absence of this man was first pointed out to them, it may have been possible to have saved this person’s life. CHESS could well be liable for a prosecution for “man slaughter” under the OPG Safeguarding Policy – May 2013 which reads as follows.

    Safeguarding relates to the need to protect certain people who may be in Vulnerable circumstances.
    These are people who may be at risk of abuse or neglect, due to the actions (or lack of action) of another person.

    In these cases, it is critical that services work together to identify people at risk, and put in place interventions to help prevent abuse or neglect, and to protect people.

    1 Factsheet 6, The Draft Care and Support Bill: Protecting adults from abuse and Neglect, Department of Health, July 2012.

    Yes CHESS is a charity but rooms there are not free, CHESS are charging CCC £130.00 per week, per person for a room in a shared house. The service user is also charged up to £25.00 per person per week on top of this. Both the CCC and the trustees of CHESS are very loath to allow other charities with a view to helping the homeless to supplement their efforts towards the homeless. It is as though CHESS trustees are being encouraged to monopolies the homeless problem in the Chelmsford area. 28+ users x £155.00 =£4340 a week again a yearly total of £225,680.00.

    The origins of CHESS were developed by the local churches, in the beginning the different churches would allow the homeless to sleep in church property on a rotation basses. Then CHESS was set up to alleviate the problem. The day shelter alas was closed by the chairman of CHESS before it had a chance to be developed. The day shelter was closed by the trustees of chess because it was, in the words of the chairman “A millstone to CHESS”. The reason given was that CHESS could no longer afford to keep the day shelter open. Even after CHESS trustees had accepted a donation of £10,000 from a church organisation in the Chelmsford area, to enable CHESS to keep the day shelter open. CHESS trustees closed the day shelter 2 weeks after receiving this donation. No offers to reimburse the monies donated were made by CHESS trustees.

    A new shelter was to have been built, indeed it was mainly due to the efforts of CHESS trustees that got the plans passed by the council. The proposed site was purportedly sold for the paltry sum of £77,000. A private company now own the land. At the monthly forum held at the Salvation Army Citadel on Friday the 25th of April 14, the chess manageress made it public knowledge that CHESS trustees have over £200,000 of liquid cash at their disposal. As far as I am aware CHESS did not even bid on the site. I have asked councillor Dick Madden to confirm or deny this, to date he has done neither. CHESS trustees have also stated that the cost of erecting an awning for the rough sleepers to eat meals under (meals supplied by CHESS each night) is beyond the cost that CHESS can afford and are happy for the rough sleepers to eat these meals, off the ground in all weathers. This is an indication of the type of care this charity gives to the homeless of Chelmsford in order to save the few hundred pounds that it would cost to make the homeless that CHESS was formed to help, that much more comfortable.

    I have since learnt that the real reason the awning was not put in place was because the trustees and staff concluded that it would have made the area too comfortable. This may have encouraged the rough sleepers to want to stay in a dry area in the inclement weather. Very Christian attitude I’m sure.

    The trustees of CHESS also took it upon themselves to hijack an article written by Dr John Rees that was going to be printed in the Essex Chronicle. The article that was printed in the May first edition was not the one written by Dr Rees. That one told a few home truths about this sham of a charity which would have been a great embarrassment to CHESS trustees.

    Unfortunately, the trustees of CHESS now seem to have lost sight of the original goals of CHESS and have allowed the emphases of their efforts to focus on the attribution of money rather than to the help of the homeless. The concept of CHESS is still very much needed in Chelmsford but is now being abused by the CHESS trustees, for their own reasons. CHESS is now a charity in name only and is being run purely as a profit making business under the present chairman, who according to the vice chair of CHESS “Is not a people person”. For someone who is not a people person, the “homeless” seem a very strange cause to champion. Even though CHESS was formed by churches in the London Road and Moulsham Street area bishop Steven claimed that CHESS is not affiliated with the church in any way and the church has no power to intervene with the way CHESS trustees run the homeless shelter and out houses in their care.

    There is a forum started by Reality Swipe who made the mini documentary I referred to in my introduction it promotes the work CHESS is claiming to do for the homeless. A spokesman for Reality Swipe claimed this film, and another two are being made to make people aware of the homeless situation during the run up to the elections? The Reality Swipe team claim this to be an unbiased representation of CHESS. A link to this site was printed in the Chelmsford Weekly News; one can only assume that it was in support of the film. Please read the forum attached to this film and draw your own conclusions. For more information about the way CHESS is being allowed to treat vulnerable people please visit this site. Questions of why our local MP and councillors are treating CHESS in such a nepotistic, protective manner should be of interest to the people of Chelmsford.

    Very recently (the end of May 2014) a member of CHESS trustees (or staff) contacted the police and accused Mr E Clark (an X CHESS service user) of forging a letter of complaint about CHESS. This letter was composed by trustees of a homeless charity called “Sanctus” which is based in Broomfield Road Chelmsford. The trustee or staff member of CHESS that made this accusation has not been named and CHESS trustees refuse to give any information regarding this matter. The reasons these allegations were made against Mr Clark was an attempt to intimidate MR Clark into stopping his complaints of over 3 years now. These complaints were against the way CHESS trustees are allowing their staff to abuse the services users in their charge. The police investigated and found that there were no charges for Mr Clark to answer to. The reason that Sanctus trustees were complaining was due to the actions of Mrs Jacque Parker (CHESS manageress). Mrs Parker had instigated the removal of the name of the Sanctus charity from cards that are handed out to the homeless when they approach certain organisations for help with their situation.

    By removing the Sanctus name from these cards, and remembering that no action can be taken by CHESS staff without the authorisation of the CHESS trustees, according to Mr Hodgkinson the CHESS chairman. Mrs Parker was attempting to portray CHESS as the only homeless charity in Chelmsford. CHESS have continually tried to play down the help that Sanctus is offering the homeless in an attempt to monopolise the homeless situation. CHESS services users are told that they should not attend Sanctus for meals or any other reason by Mrs Parker. Some have even been told that failure to follow these instructions could result in a service user being evicted from CHESS property, and therefor back on the streets. The reasons for this are known only to CHESS trustees and staff. At the present time, unlike CHESS, Sanctus gets no monetary help from CCC. Maybe if Sanctus were to receive cash help from CCC, CHESS may have to share the funds it receives. Therefor have less to pay their invisible overheads. It is very hard to see to what use CHESS are putting their donated finances towards.

    More recently Dr Rees spoke to a rough sleeper and was asked by the rough sleeper if he would go to the night shelter and ask for a sleeping bag for him. Dr Rees asked why he could not do this himself. His answer shocked Dr Rees as it has me. The rough sleeper told Dr Rees that he was too afraid of the staff at the night shelter to ask them for anything no matter how much he needed it. Dr Rees went to the night shelter only to find it unmanned at 18.35 in the evening.

    Mr Hodgkinson has told Dr Rees in the past that the reasons I am complaining are due to mental issues I am having due to the things I witnessed during my time in HMF. This is totally untrue. I wrote to a Mr James Sawtell from the Mental Health team here in Chelmsford and asked if he had given this information to any of the trustees or staff of CHESS. His answer was that not only would he, or any of his team not give out information of that kind to any organisation (even one that was claiming to be a charity). He went on to tell me that I was not on his records at all. Mr Hodgkinson is using this lie to disparage my complaints against CHESS. He is doing this in an attempt to conceal the disgusting way he runs CHESS and is simply using the homeless to make money. Where this money is going I cannot see, but having been in the CHESS system, it certainly isn’t going back into the homeless or the houses CHESS run. Indeed one landlord that CHESS were renting a property refused to take the building back due to the bad state of repair CHESS had allowed it to fall into.


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