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Totnes street funeral tribute to homeless Michael

By Herald Express  |  Posted: November 30, 2012


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A STREET funeral is being held in honour of a homeless man found dead in a church doorway on the coldest night of the year.

Now the people of Totnes are calling for a homeless shelter in the town, saying 42-year-old Michael Gethin is the fifth rough sleeper to die in the town in recent years.

To raise awareness about the problem, friends and traders who knew Michael have organised the street tribute, which will be followed by a 48-hour sleep-out street vigil by Big Issue seller Graham Walker, who lived on the streets of the town for 12 years.

Michael was found dead in his sleeping bag in the doorway of the Methodist Church in Totnes on November 4, a coroner has been told.

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Traders and people who knew Michael have banded together to pay for the funeral and make sure his death marks a change in the way the homeless are cared for in the town.

The weather was very cold and wet and his clothing and sleeping bag were all very wet, the inquest opening was told.

The exact cause of death is yet to be determined, but there are no suspicious circumstances.

Coffee shop owner John Macadie, who knew Michael, said: "Michael died on the coldest night of the year so far, when a thick blanket of white hailstones fell.

"Totnes looked like a lovely Christmas picturebox with white streets and white cars.

"In the morning police found Michael dead in the church doorway.

"The shame of it is that in his last chat with me he said he didn't think he would last out this winter. He was right again."

He said the unemployed man was from Plymouth but had been living on the streets of Totnes for 18 months after being beaten up in his home city: "He was a Devon boy, born and bred and we are going to say a very simple 'Goodbye to Michael' with a street funeral.

"We will walk in Devonshire-style, holding the coffin low, draped with the Devon flag, through the town to the cemetery.

"He lived on the streets and died on the streets and so it is right he has a street funeral."

Mr Macadie, who runs the Red Wizard coffee shop, said: "Michael is not the first homeless person to die.

"Why are we all talking about Costa coffee when a man dies just up the road? We have to be judged as a community on the way we treat the poorest and the elderly.

"There have been five deaths over the last couple of years." The vigil starts on Tuesday at 11.30am and ends on Thursday at 11.30am when Michael's funeral will begin with a procession from outside the Royal Seven Stars.

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  • Tramsteer  |  December 06 2012, 5:00PM

    Zingy is right and its time to look after people and not minor high street problems.

  • flapdoodle  |  November 30 2012, 8:25PM

    I think it's not just Totnes who needs to wake up, it's the whole country. Just because a person is homeless does not make them automatically a drunk or addict. Most of the general public would prefer to walk on by than lend a hand to a member of the homeless community. Good luck Graham on your vigil.

    |   3
  • spindleshanks  |  November 30 2012, 3:53PM

    I think the really ironic thing is that the poor man couldn't even find refuge in a church. What does that say about our caring society?

    |   4
  • ziggyblue  |  November 30 2012, 2:02PM

    Dreadful that in this day and age someone should die in this way purely from lack of accommodation. Totnes wake up and smell the coffee and not Costas.

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  • nicold  |  November 30 2012, 11:13AM

    What a nice touch to send him off!...but people in Totnes should look at the homeless centre at Castle Circus, Torquay and see the effect this has had in the town centre!