Home » News » Vincent died of hypothermia in the streets of Namur, what to do when all help is refused?

Vincent died of hypothermia in the streets of Namur, what to do when all help is refused?

For over a year, Vincent had never taken off his old blanket. He had survived for eight years on the streets. He was disillusioned, resigned. He had entrusted us “wanting to die quietly”. After several bad experiences in the night shelter, he refused to go there, and generally refused any help. According to the autopsy, Vincent, a former carpenter cabinetmaker, would have frozen to death in the night from Monday to Tuesday.

For the field teams, the social workers who had known him for a long time, it was a shock. For Olivier Hissette, deputy coordinator of Relais Social Urbain Namurois “It’s a failure. A person who dies in the street is very difficult for us. We always have to put the work back on the job because we can’t convince some people to get off the streets and that is that which is very difficult too “.

A few hours before Vincent’s death, social workers came to see him and offered to join the night shelter, which he, as usual, refused. The absolute idleness in which Vincent was plunged had challenged us a year ago. At the time, we asked the question of the responsibility of local authorities. The president of the CPAS, Philippe Noël then told us that we do not force a person to accept social assistance. A position in which he remains today “It is a choice that we make, we respect individual freedom. Our workers come regularly, offer the night shelter. If there is a refusal, we offer blankets and hot drinks”.

Should we compel?

In some cases, when the person is in danger, shouldn’t they be coerced in order to protect them? “This form of constraint, it exists. It depends on the public prosecutor. It is a kind of supervision. In this case, in this case, the person was in full possession of his intellectual faculties, he was using his free will. But in much heavier pathologies, there may be a guardianship “ details Philippe Noël, “but it is on a case by case basis, it depends on the person”.

Police interventions in 2018

“We do not coerce” it is therefore the position of the city. However, in 2018, during a cold snap, the mayor of Namur issued a police order to force all people on the street to be sheltered. If necessary, the police intervened. A decision made during “morbidly cold” and which goes against individual freedoms. At the time, Stéphanie Scailquin, alderman for social cohesion announced to us We prefer to take a legal risk rather than the risk of seeing people stay on the streets during the very cold nights that lie ahead in the coming days.“.

The measure has been the subject of debate. The protection of life was prioritized over respect for the freedom of individuals. At Relais Social Urbain Namurois, when we talk about this measure, we also recall that it had negative repercussions, as Olivier Hissette points out. “One of the elements is trust. When a decision that starts from a good intention – which is to preserve the health and life of certain people – round this trust, concerns arise. We had people that we had used to see in a squat. They were afraid and left for other sectors where we could no longer follow them. It is also a risk to which we must adapt “.

Which solution ?

Impossible to provide a clear answer on an attitude, a responsibility. The problem is complex like the human psyche. It requires nuance.

A lead can however be glimpsed, a structural solution rather than the emergency solution which is the collective night shelter. “Housing, classic housing” insists Olivier Hissette of RSUN. “We are given financial means but we have to find new owners of solidarity. There is very strong real estate pressure in Namur. Let us be given the possibility of supporting people in housing who do not have the profile a priori. tenants for private owners, people who have been living on the street for several years with addictions. There are successes. With housing first, we reach 80 to 90% of people that we manage to keep in their homes. lacking for the moment these are structural responses in terms of housing “.

If the “there is only”, “is enough” have no place here. This human tragedy can, perhaps, provoke a reflection, a debate on the place that our society leaves to individuals, and particularly to the most precarious.

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