A HOMELESS man dies ‘just days’ after Bournemouth council reportedly took his sleeping bag away.

In the world of tabloid journalism this has all the elements of an ‘interesting’ story – ‘heartless bureaucrats’, human tragedy, mystery – who was this gentleman? – an important and topical social issue and last, but not least, the chance for Lily Allen types to signal their virtue without it costing them a penny.

But wait a minute. Is that really what happened? Bournemouth Borough Council says emphatically it did not take away the sleeping bag of the gentleman - now identified as Kevin Fillsell - whose body was discovered in the Braidley Road car park.

As the first reporter on the scene of his tragic death on Monday I can confirm that I certainly saw bedding in close proximity to where poor Kevin was discovered. To me, it didn’t look as if it could belong to anyone else but of course, I could be wrong.

I reported faithfully the words of the lovely Adam, a father-of-four who gave Kev, as he knew him, a lift most days to Richmond Hill and was the person who reported his death to the police. Adam also gave him the odd tenner, a coat and food.

And what Adam said was that Kevin had complained that the council had removed his sleeping bag ‘two weeks ago.’

Given the goodwill and generosity shown towards Kevin by what seems like dozens of people in his town, even if his sleeping bag was ever removed for whatever reason by anyone at all – and the council emphatically denies they did this – I doubt he’d have gone two weeks without acquiring another one. Goodwill flowed towards him like a river.

But that doesn’t sell tabloid newspapers. Or snooty broadsheets which have recently gone tabloid, it would appear. And so Bournemouth Borough Council found itself with a giant PR mess on its doorstep.

Which is tragic because the thing most people seemed to say about Kevin was that he was constantly being offered accommodation by the council and assistance by other helping services. But he didn’t want to take up these offers. I can believe this because Adam told me he’d offered to put Kev up in a B & B so he could get a hot shower and a bit of home comfort. But Kev politely refused.

When you write a story like this you get all sorts, including people who like to help the homeless, calling you up. But even they can’t really explain which UK law allows you to bodily remove a person who is of sound mind and who is not breaking the law to a place where he doesn’t want to be.

And that, with some homeless people, is the difficulty.

If solving the problem of homelessness was as easy as giving people a maisonette, it would have disappeared in the 1950s. For most homeless people, that’s all they do need – safe, secure accommodation which doesn’t cost more than a month’s wages to stay in.

But there are people whose experiences are so horrendous it has made it difficult for them to actually live in a property. Some people, as the manager of the Bournemouth Night Shelter once told me, have lives which have been so degraded by neglect and abuse they actually don’t know how to live in accommodation.

Helping those people is complicated. It takes time and patience. And money. Lots and lots of money.

And then there are people like Kevin. I don’t know why he appeared not to want to live indoors. It would appear that even those who knew him best couldn’t find out either. He politely ‘wouldn’t go into it’ as one man who knew him explained.

But I am guessing it would take months, if not years, of psychiatric help to get to the bottom of why a person can’t or won’t or doesn’t feel able to live indoors.

And even if that help were available and the money to pay for it was available, how can you make people turn up for the appointments if they don’t want to?

So I think the real story of Kevin is not about him and why he apparently chose to live the way he did – as was his right.

I think it’s about how – despite our crazy-busy lives, despite our caution or even fear of the dispossessed, despite the cost in time and money to assist – people still do.

Adam told me he would see Kev sitting on the wall by his car park as he drove by and one day stopped his car to ask if he was OK.

It’s a simple enough act but one that too many of us would be too busy, or nervous, or impatient to take.

But not Adam. He literally did not pass by on the other side. And neither did Marisa, the kind lady who, Adam says, would bring Kev a coffee most mornings. And, when they saw him outside their store, neither did the estimable staff of Patisserie Valerie who invited him to their Christmas Party. And nor did those decent and kindly people who served Kevin at the myriad soup kitchens and welfare stops being run in this town.

And I am guessing that while the popular image of housing departments everywhere is of hatchet-faced monsters, most people go into the job to try and make a difference and feel depressed when the government hacks away at their grant so they are asked to do more with less.

The real story here isn’t one of cold-hearts but of people who didn’t just think about helping, or talk about it, or write comments on websites or to the papers. They are people who got off their backsides and DID help.

Kevin’s background is still a bit of a mystery. But what we DO know is that his life was improved immeasurably by the kindness of strangers. And that’s the bit to cling on to.