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How a mother’s fight to learn how her daughter died in a homeless hostel could prevent thousands of deaths

Tina Robson died in supported homeless accommodation in July 2020. Two years later, her mother Sue is hoping to find out how she died and take action to prevent thousands of others from dying in so-called safe spaces.

The mother of a 35-year-old woman who died in homeless accommodation will take her two-year fight for the truth to an inquest this week in a bid to prevent homeless deaths.

Tina Robson was found dead in Bridge House Mission in Stockton-on-Tees on July 26 2020. Despite being vulnerable, she had reportedly not been seen by staff for more than five hours.

A four-day inquest will be held into how Tina died this week after her mother Sue raised more than £5,000 to cover legal costs when she was denied legal aid.

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The 61-year-old is aiming to uncover the truth around her daughter’s death and to change a situation that has seen more than 1,000 people die in temporary or emergency accommodation, according to the Museum of Homelessness’ Dying Homeless project.

“We all know the figures show a rise in deaths of homeless people, many of those deaths have taken place in homeless accommodations,” said Sue Robson. “So for me the process is really important that I’ve actually got to this point where a good number of professional practitioners are going to have to stand there and account for a death and they can’t just bin her and forget about her.

“The other thing I want out of this hearing is a prevention of future deaths report because I want to prevent these deaths. What is the point of having supported homeless accommodation if you’re going to say: ‘Oh well actually many die anyway and we can’t really do anything about it’? 

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“We need a prevention of future deaths report so that we’ve got some hooks for the future. Because this is only the beginning of our campaign. We’re only at the start of it.”

Tina, originally from Sunderland but living in Stockton-upon-Tees, died just six days after arriving at Bridge House Mission. The charity, with funding from Stockton Borough Council, provides short-term housing for people in need of housing-related support, primarily individuals with complex needs.

Tina’s family described her as a “clever, creative and artistic person, who was unique and stylish”. She faced significant childhood trauma and struggled with mental ill health and associated drug and alcohol addictions.

Tina was classed as clinically vulnerable due to physical health conditions and struggled during the pandemic after difficulties in accessing the same level of in-person support and a connection to local services.

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Her family are now hoping the inquest will clarify the circumstances around Tina’s death and will convince the coroner to pen a report to organisations, local authorities or government departments on taking action to prevent future deaths. They have faced barriers – they were denied legal aid for the inquest and crowdfunded more than £5,400 in just a week to ensure they can be properly presented at the hearing.

“I think it’s absolutely shocking that I had to raise this money myself because the thought of going into that bullring, that lion’s den on my own, for somebody to have to go in without any legal representation would just be destroying,” said Sue.

“There’s absolutely no way, no matter how strong you were, how educated you were, that you could put yourself through that.”

Tina Robson homeless inquest
Tina Robson was described as “clever, creative and artistic person, who was unique and stylish” by her family. Image: Sue Robson

Tina’s family have teamed up with Inquest, a charity supporting bereaved people to investigate deaths. The charity is campaigning for an expansion of legal aid at inquests to ensure families have access to legal support. 

“Tina’s death is part of wider patterns of the deaths of women who have faced significant trauma, and of people facing homelessness,”  said Jodie Anderson, senior caseworker at Inquest. “It is vital that the circumstances are fully examined to help end this cycle and prevent future deaths.

“This is in the public interest, yet her family have had to fundraise for legal support while those who were responsible for her care are represented at public expense.”

That pattern of deaths was uncovered by the Museum of Homelessness’ Dying Homeless project, an annual count of the number of people who died while experiencing homelessness or living in vulnerable situations.

More than 1,200 people died according to MOH’s 2021 count with over 90 per cent of the deaths recorded in insecure accommodation.

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Jessica Turtle, co-founder of MOH, said: “We are in the middle of a significant crisis; we have counted an 87% increase in deaths in our community since 2019. Each person, like Tina, leaves behind people who loved them fiercely.

“It’s a scandal that so many people in our community are dying in accommodation when they should be safer off the streets. The current system is failing vulnerable women and we are proud to support Sue’s fight to prevent further unnecessary deaths in Tina’s memory.”

The inquest will be held from July 4 to 7 at Teesside Coroner’s Court.

After a two-year battle, Sue told The Big Issue she hopes the hearing will give her closure on her own personal crusade and give other families hope.

“There is a bigger picture attached to this,” Sue added. “This is about ending deaths in supported homeless accommodation and making those places safer and more supportive.”

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