Poetry of America (1943) from The Wines of Gala by Salvador Dalí. Photo: SALVADOR DALI
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Books of the year 2017, part three: chosen by Joan Bakewell, Michael Moorcock, Olivia Laing and others

The New Statesman's friends and contributors recommend their top reads from the last 12 months.

Read part one of our guide to the best books of 2017 here, and part two here.


Olivia Laing

I’m obsessed with Civilisation & Its Malcontents (Ma Bibliothèque) by the artist and film-maker Sarah Wood, a bewitchingly brilliant extended essay on Freud and Brexit. It’s a roaming rumination on the nature of civilisation, populated by rats and dead parents and set in the ruins of Rome. It’s also the sanest take on Brexit that I have read, using a psychoanalytic lens to probe the fears and hatreds that lie beneath the proliferation of borders in the world today.

Speaking of borders, Sarah Schulman’s revelatory Conflict Is Not Abuse (Arsenal) is also vital – an urgent, cogent handbook for navigating and defusing our accelerating hostilities.

Michael Howard

I read A Dance to the Music of Time, Anthony Powell’s great saga of 20th-century society, many years ago and greatly enjoyed it. Hilary Spurling’s biography Anthony Powell (Hamish Hamilton) brings one back into his world with the insights that come from the added context that she provides. It is written with an elegance that does full credit to its subject. And it is strangely comforting, in an age when politics is suffering a battering from all sides, to discover that the politics of publishing before the war – and perhaps even today – could be just as vicious as anything we see at Westminster.

Melvyn Bragg

In 1995, Robert McCrum, in full sail as an outstanding editor and author, was felled by a severe stroke. His determination not to let it interrupt his career was remarkable. Every Third Thought (Picador) – part autobiography, part meditations on death, part interviews – is seasoned by telling references to a wide range of literature. It is moving, intellectual and unsentimental. I think it will become a classic.

Ian McEwan’s brilliance as a stylist and surprise plotter finds a fitting subject in Nutshell (published in paperback this year by Vintage), which is Hamlet as told from inside the womb. Up there with his best.

Brendan Simms

I was completely absorbed by Tony Connelly’s Brexit and Ireland (Penguin Ireland), exploring the dangers, the opportunities and the inside story of the Irish response, which I picked up on the way back from my home town of Dublin. Leaving aside the rights and wrongs of Brexit, for which there is a perfectly defensible argument on the British side, the book shows that it is an unmitigated catastrophe for Ireland. The threat to the “peace process” in the form of the border question is well known, but Connelly shows that the implications for the Irish Republic extend to the entire economy and its relationship with the EU.

Michael Brooks

Decades from now, our generation may be judged on how we reacted to the arrival of artificial intelligence. Astonishing advances – from DeepMind’s go-playing algorithms, controversial implementations by Facebook, AI-influenced courtroom decisions and the creeping spectre of killer robots – make this subject worth urgent attention, especially as its proponents argue that AI could still be the best thing that ever happened to us. With Android Dreams: The Past, Present and Future of Artificial Intelligence (Hurst), Toby Walsh, an AI expert based at the University of New South Wales, has written a sober, thoughtful and fascinating book that walks non-experts through the technology, examines its strengths and shortcomings and draws sensible conclusions about its likely impact.

Michael Prodger

Martin Salisbury’s sumptuous The Illustrated Dust Jacket: 1920-1970 (Thames & Hudson) drips with period flavour and shows how false the distinction between fine and applied art can be. Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden and Edward Ardizzone were among those who happily crossed the line to join specialists such as Brian Cook and Cecil W Bacon to produce supremely stylish jackets that were often superior to the books they wrapped.

Mr Lear (Faber & Faber), Jenny Uglow’s biography of Edward Lear, the creator of superb bird illustrations, Mediterranean views and nonsense verse, shows a man as varied as his work but considerably sadder.

Art by CW Bacon (1905-1992) from The Illustrated Dust Jacket (Thames & Hudson)

Fiona Sampson

Like his previous novel Zone, Mathias Énard’s Compass (Fitzcarraldo Editions) far outstrips even its own astonishing technique to create a brilliantly lit, wholly addictive world of post-colonialism and romantic obsession. It’s also a virtuoso feat by the translator Charlotte Mandell.

One of the poetry events of the year, oddly overlooked here, was surely the publication of Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda Poems (Bloodaxe), translated by the leading American poet Forrest Gander and handsomely presented with bilingual text and holographs. Discovered in 2014 and issued in the US last year, these are emphatically not literary leftovers, and they give us Pablo Neruda at his full emotional and imaginative stretch.

Ray Monk

Samaritans (Endeavour Press) by Jonathan Lynn is a darkly funny satire of the American health system by the co-creator and co-writer of Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister, which serves as a timely warning of the creeping privatisation that threatens to destroy the NHS.

Another important warning is given in Grazed and Confused?, a report published this year by an international team of scientists led by the Food Climate Research Network at Oxford University. It is downloadable from the web and I recommend it to anyone who wants to understand the devastating effects that animal farming is having on our environment.

Mike McCormack

The best novel I read this year was Tim Parks’s In Extremis (Harvill Secker), a frantic and minutely observed comedy of family, marriage, life and death. There is something in the synaptic twitch of Parks’s prose that brings us closer to the pressures and rhythms of a lived life than the work of any other contemporary writer I can think of.

I have three different translations of Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet, each of them substantially different. And now Serpent’s Tail has published what is subtitled “The Complete Edition”. It’s hard to explain how this modernist hymnal of boredom, fatigue, dejection and jadedness is so beautiful and life affirming. Perfect winter reading.

Philip Hoare

Michael Franks’s stylish, dysfunctional childhood memoir of 1970s Hollywood and his outrageous Aunt Hankie, The Mighty Franks (Fourth Estate), reads like a Truman Capote story. It was so good that I had to read it twice.

From overheated California to the frozen top of the world: Horatio Clare’s Icebreaker (Chatto & Windus) sails with a phlegmatic Finnish crew into threatening and threatened polar waters: “The sea remains the last place to which you can run away.” Clare’s witty prose, filled with vivid descriptions, bears witness to the melting skin of our fragile planet and all that its loss might mean for our souls.

Shiraz Maher

When it comes to writing about Islamic State in new and interesting ways, Graeme Wood has form. For the Atlantic in 2015, he authored a wildly influential essay on the ideas driving the group, exploring how “Islamic” it really is. “The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths,” he found. “It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs.”

That investigation has given rise to a book on the same subject, The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State (Allen Lane), in which Wood expands and builds on his essay. One of his great achievements is that he transforms an otherwise depressing and dense topic into something that is not just accessible but, at times, even amusing, while losing none of his analytical rigour – think a mixture of Louis Theroux and Jon Ronson surveying Islamic State’s global network of supporters.

Joan Bakewell

Death haunts us, and in Lincoln in the Bardo (Bloomsbury) George Saunders mines the many ways it does: the Gothic, the sentimental, the fearful and, above all, the grief-stricken. As more of us are living longer, we know loss and grieving better and the culture is increasingly encouraging us to talk about it (I broadcast about it).

As the role of women undergoes yet another convulsion, it’s good to read, in Lyndall Gordon’s Outsiders (Virago), of the robust intelligence of five women who made a powerful contribution. The work and lives of Emily Brontë, George Eliot, Mary Shelley, Olive Schreiner and Virginia Woolf are well known. Gordon’s thesis sets out just how original and brave they were – and at what cost. We owe them much.

Gerry Brakus

In a year of great political upheaval, escaping from reality has been even more of a priority than usual. One book that is sure to send you on a wonderfully surreal journey is Salvador Dalí’s The Wines of Gala (Taschen). First published in 1977, this new edition is faithful in its reproduction and, with observations such as “Whoever has drunk wine can forgive drunkenness,” it will guide me smoothly through the festive season.

Closer to reality but more dreamlike in feel is Exile by Vasantha Yogananthan (Chose Cummune). The third book in the photographer’s A Myth of Two Souls series, it is inspired by the Ramayana, which is beautifully evoked in this fairy tale of a book. Finally, I find myself frequently revisiting Mimi Mollica’s photographs in Terra Nostra (Dewi Lewis), for a dose of unsettling and very real Sicilian life.

The images in Exile by Vasantha Yogananthan are inspired by the Ramayana. Photo: Vasantha Yogananthan

Stuart Maconie

There are a lot of “How to Be” books around these days and a lot of them are awful. Robert Webb’s How Not to Be a Boy (Canongate), however, is true to the spirit of the first and best of these modern memoirs, Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman, in that it is funny, terrifically well written and has a core of quietly defiant proletarian anger glittering at its core.

Chris Renwick’s Bread for All: The Origins of the Welfare State (Allen Lane) makes a gripping human story out of the wisest and most progressive policy achievement of any government in the history of the world but doesn’t shirk the nuts and bolts of politics and sociology. Struggled for, sacralised and now besieged, the welfare state deserves books this good.

Leo Robson

For anyone who has ever spent time trying to compose a piece of non-fiction of any length, the word “godsend” does not adequately describe John McPhee’s Draft No 4 (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), a masterclass in practising what you preach as you preach it – in showing as well as telling the prospective journalist or memoirist or narrative historian, or the all-too-human pro, how to devise a structure, take a note, choose a verb and nail a fact. Though McPhee’s work as a reporter involved him in more outwardly strenuous tasks – hiking, canoeing, and so on – this book is a testament to his decades of excruciating graft at the desk. Kevin Davey’s Playing Possum (Aaaargh! Press), a fantasia spun from the vast mythology that has grown around TS Eliot, is brave and brilliantly executed.

Melissa Benn

Lucy Crehan’s Cleverlands: The Secrets Behind the Success of the World’s Education Superpowers (Unbound) is a must-read for anyone interested in how we can create a world-class education system. Crehan sets out on a journey to Finland, Canada, Japan, Singapore and Shanghai to find out how learning relates to national cultures, expectations and limitations. Her final chapter, setting out the five principles that shape high-performing and equitable systems, should be photocopied and stuck on the office wall of every politician responsible for education in this country.

On the fiction front, I enjoyed Kamila Shamsie’s Man Booker-longlisted Home Fire (Bloomsbury Circus), which does a great job of bringing Sophocles’s Antigone into the world of Skype and Isis. Shamsie’s writing resonates on the human, political and lyrical plane but its topicality, tight plot and vivid characterisation also suggest a film script in the making.

Tom Gatti

Maria Apichella’s Psalmody (Eyewear Publishing) is a thrilling narrative poem that not only tells a gripping love story but plays with the psalm form to meditate on faith in the modern world. I’ve never read anything quite like it.

On the back of Patricia Lockwood’s brilliantly anarchic memoir, Priestdaddy, Pen­guin has finally published her second poetry collection, Motherland Fatherland Home­landsexuals in the UK. Pastoral verse meets porn spam in work that walks a line between hilarity and horror. A gloriously oddball talent.

Henry Marsh

By far the best book I read this year was Robert M Sapolsky’s Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, a wonderfully lucid, scholarly and witty account of the biological basis of human behaviour, starting with the neuroscience of nerve cells, neurotransmitters and hormones and ending with history and anthropology. Once you have read it, you will see neither yourself nor your fellow humans in the same way as before.

It should be read in conjunction with Stephen Bernard’s terrifying and eloquent Paper Cuts (Jonathan Cape), an extraordinary personal account of the psychological consequences of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest. As Sapolsky explains, early experiences can change our brains for ever. If as much money was spent on improving childhood as is spent on cancer research and treatment, prolonging old age (since cancer is primarily a disease of later life), the world would be a much better place.

Michael Moorcock

Iain Sinclair’s Lights Out for the Territory (1997) began a psychogeographical sequence remaking and rediscovering London’s history through individuals and local ambience, and his elegaic The Last London (Oneworld) concludes it. Where JG Ballard lauds the sexual aesthetics of the M25, Sinclair gives voice to those living and working beneath it, creating fresh narratives to replace those that the developers steal from us.

I loved Le Coup de Prague (Aire Libre) by Jean-Luc Fromental and Miles Hyman. Their noirish comic book speculates about Graham Greene’s visit to Vienna following the Second World War, inspiring The Third Man. Moodily drawn and sardonically written, it’s a fine example of an adult graphic novel.

Geoff Dyer

My favourite discovery this year was the reissue of Eve Babitz’s Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, the Flesh and LA (New York Review Books). First published in 1977, it’s a collection of linked, neurotically funny, autobiographical stories about the kind of stuff you would expect from southern California in the 1970s. The sensual pleasures of the prose are overseen by a blue-sky metaphysics. (In a modernist dream house in Palm Springs where every door and window slides, Babitz’s companion realises that life is intolerable without doorknobs.) There’s no satire here – that would be too easy. It is more like a series of intoxicated love letters that have the potential to become an endlessly postponed suicide note.

Frances Wilson

Jacqueline Yallop’s memoir, Big Pig, Little Pig (Fig Tree), is a beautifully written and quietly devastating account of raising two young pigs on her smallholding in the south of France. They are charming and intelligent beasts with twirling tails, knobbly knees and bristly black manes. They hate courgettes, laugh with glee in hosepipe showers and enjoy sashaying down the lane, snacking on hawthorn bushes. Is it anthropomorphic, Yallop wonders, to note that the bigger pig is introverted and wise, while the smaller one is extroverted and a tad selfish? Just as we think we’re in the realm of Babe or Charlotte’s Web, the book turns into the George Orwell essay “Shooting an Elephant”.

Ed Smith

I enjoyed Robert Seethaler’s The Tobacconist (Picador). The novel sets up a tiny tobacconist’s shop in 1930s Vienna as a window on to a street, a city and a continent, all drifting into conflict. It shows how fiction can use the personal to explore the biggest themes. Staying in the 1930s, I read Giorgio Bassani’s elegiac 1962 novel The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, having been given the exquisite Folio Society edition. There’s so much to admire, especially its restraint. It’s a book in which you do not get the romantic resolution you thought you wanted but get instead the deeper satisfaction of experiencing a truthful – albeit painful – rendering of imagined events.

Gavin Francis

The two new books that have most enthralled me this year – the ones that I have read and reread – were first published in their home countries years ago. The first, Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, was published by Seattle’s Wave Books in 2009 but has found a UK publisher with Jonathan Cape. It takes the form of 240 fragments or “propositions”, each a distilled meditation on grief, recovery and redemption. The second, Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights (Fitzcarraldo Editions), was first published in 2007 by Wydawnictwo Literackie in Krakow. It is both a novel and an intricate anatomy of travel, occupying a playfully ambiguous zone between fiction and non-fiction. 

This article first appeared in the 16 November 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The plot to stop Brexit

Clive Turner/Maeve McClenaghan
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Inside the lives of the 78 people who died homeless this winter

Some died in doorways or in tents pitched in the snow. Others died in shelters or temporary accommodation.

In early March, the snow lay thick over the windows of Hamid Farahi’s car, obscuring the jumble of blankets, books and bags within. An entire life crammed into the passenger seat of a Peugeot 206.

Amongst the clutter was a prized possession – a letter from the office of Stephen Hawking. But 55-year-old Farahi no longer needed it.

Less than a mile down the road, Farahi had been checked into a hotel, the inclement weather forcing the homeless man out of the car where he was living and into a warm room for the night. It was there that he died. The cause of his death is still being investigated.

Farahi is one of 78 people the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has found to have died while homeless this winter. This averages to more than two people a week, with at least ten people dying last month alone.

Despite many of these vulnerable people being known to the authorities, local journalists and charities are often the only ones that report these deaths.

The Bureau spoke to councils, hospitals, coroners offices, police forces and NGOs. Whilst there is a charitable network recording information on people sleeping rough in London, it found that there is no centralised record of when and how people die homeless in the UK. Therefore, its count is likely an underestimate.

And so today, the Bureau launched Dying Homeless, a long-term project to track and count those that die homeless on UK streets. 

It has already started to log some of the stories of those who have died homeless on UK streets. They include an avid gardener, a former soldier and a grieving 31-year-old who had lost both his mother and brother.

Some died in doorways or in tents pitched in the snow. Others died in shelters or passed away in hospitals after living on the streets. Many were rough sleepers, others were statutory homeless and staying in temporary accommodation.

The Bureau found that, since 1 October 2017, at least 59 men and 16 women have died – and in a further three cases the gender is not known due to lack of public information. The ages of those in our database so far range from 19- to 68-years-old. Fourteen deaths were of people 35-years-old or under.

The project has been welcomed by those working in the sector.

Petra Salva, St Mungo’s Director of Rough Sleeper Services said: “It’s a scandal that people are dying on our streets.

“St Mungo’s would welcome more nationally collated, robust statistics around rough sleeper deaths.”

Thames Reach Chief Executive Jeremy Swain said: “To systematically record the number of deaths of rough sleepers in order to gauge the scale of the problem and investigate trends will be of enormous practical value.”

Farahi’s car now sits unclaimed, on a quiet side road behind the car park of a huge Tesco shopping complex in Harlow, Essex. Four weeks on from his death and, instead of snow, the windscreen is covered with floral tributes. There are 11 bunches of flowers in all, most now withered and brown.

“They all appeared over the past couple of weeks”, said Adam Protheroe. A local businessman, Protheroe had met Farahi the year before and had come to know him well. “I’m back and forth from Tesco all the time getting stuff for the wife and kids. I just came across him, said hello, he was a friendly enough guy,” he said.

Farahi once told Protheroe he had studied aeronautical engineering in Bristol. His Facebook page registers a stint working in avionics for British Airways.

Once, he even applied for a graduate research position with Stephen Hawking’s office at the University of Cambridge. The Bureau saw paperwork confirming his application. Farahi told Protheroe and others he had made it down to the last three applicants.

But then, things started to go wrong.

“Someone conned him out of money and he ended up selling his pension to shark companies, that is what he called them,” Protheroe explained. “Losing that money was the start of the alcoholism I think, it alleviated the stress.”

Iranian-born, Farahi was also reportedly suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), from his time fighting for the army in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.

People that knew Farahi years before told Channel 4 News he was not the easiest man to live with. He struggled with alcoholism for years and had to be removed from several properties. But many people in Harlow told the Bureau of their affection for him.

Chrissy Sorce works in a car rental hut, just five metres from Farahi ’s makeshift home. Her cigarette breaks would often bring her face to face with the homeless man. “At first I thought that’s a bit weird living there. He first arrived in the summer, and so I just started saying hello, ” she explained. Soon she was charging his phone for him or making him tea.

She told the Bureau that after gathering many books on advanced mathematics and engineering he had to enlist the help of a friend, who stored them in her daughter’s garden shed because they could no longer fit in his car.

“You know he’s a person like anyone else. Everyone’s vulnerable aren’t they,” she said. “He was a very intelligent man, he had all engineering books, maths books you know. He was just left here, I thought that was really wrong.”

The number of people sleeping rough has risen sharply across the UK, increasing 169 per cent in England since 2010, according to the government’s latest rough sleeper count. Experts warn cuts to mental health and substance abuse provision, coupled with rising private rents and a lack of social housing, are now forcing increasing numbers into homelessness.

However, there is no central database logging deaths of those who die when homeless. There no obligation on councils or coroners to log the deaths. Not all deaths make the news.

But that does not mean they go unnoticed. The Bureau found that for those working in the sector, news of premature deaths can be hard to shake.

Wayne Hood, from the charity Streets2Homes, knows two other people who died in Harlow this winter. The families do not want the names shared.

Hood knows only too well the dangers of sleeping rough. Now a paid outreach worker, he first arrived at the Streets2Homes shelter when he became homeless in 2015.

These days he splits his time between helping those who arrive at the day centre, tucked away in a small industrial estate on the edge of the town, and the time he is out walking the streets, looking for those that need help.

“I have these flyers printed”, Hood explained, pulling a handful of A4 sheets out of his rucksack. In big, bold letters they read: “Homeless you are not alone”. In the corner of a storeroom are bulging plastic bags tied tightly at the top, full of toiletries, bottles of water and other essentials. These are the packs Hood hands out on his round.

“Street homeless is becoming very visible here now. It has definitely increased,” he said. “We have 28 registered rough sleepers that we know of here in Harlow. It is probably more like double that in reality”, he added.

People bed down where they can. In a small square of grass outside the local St Paul’s church, eight tents huddle in varying states of disarray.

“When the weather was bad in March, we went out to places we thought people might be. A couple of occasions we opened up the centre here too, on Friday and Saturday night when it was really cold. It was a case of people bedding down here on the day room floor,” Hood explained.

At the same time, 70 miles away, Robert Wallis was settling in on the floor of an emergency shelter too.

Six days before Hamid Farahi died, as 'the beast from the East' cold snap pummelled the UK, Eileen Wallis, a homeless woman, woke up on the floor of the Catching Lives drop-in centre and found her 41-year-old son Robert, who was also homeless, dead beside her.

Eileen told journalist Gerry Warren of KentOnline: “I woke up and reached out for his hand but it felt really cold. I realised he was dead but tried to revive him.

“I knew he was ill, but this came completely out of the blue and I am devastated. I have no idea what my future holds now.”

The centre, a squat rectangular building housed just metres from Canterbury East station, had been turned into an emergency shelter as the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol, a statutory requirement on councils to house homeless people in severe weather, prompted charities within the sector to open their doors.

“When the temperature is forecast zero [degrees Celsius] or less for three nights or severe wind, rain or snow, the council contact us and we open our day centre”, explained Graeme Solly, a Project Leader with Catching Lives day centre. “We had 47 nights of that this winter.”

The tables which usually line the hall were pushed to the side, the snooker and ping-pong tables moved back to make room for 15 people bedding down on mats on the floor. The centre was at capacity most nights.

"We are seeing a large number of rough sleepers, sofa surfers, and people who are vulnerably housed coming to our centre to seek advice", said Solly. Footfall at the Catching Lives day centre doubled between 2013 to 2015 and has remained around this mark since, he added.

Official figures show that, across the South of England, the numbers of rough sleepers has increased by 194 per cent since 2010, higher even than the national average.

Cuts to council budgets have had an impact on the care homeless people can access, said Solly.

With fewer options for referral to other services, staff at Catching Lives are left trying to support people as best they can.

Staff in the centre are still shaken by Robert Wallis’s death. Responding at the time, the centre’s general manager, Terry Gore, told Kent Online: “Every year we lose a number of clients, but we’ve never had anyone die inside the building before. It’s very sad for our staff, clients and volunteers.”

But Robert was not the only person to die while homeless in Canterbury this year. Less than three weeks later, the city saw another death.

Out on the streets of Canterbury, Sonya Langridge walks with a purpose, her years working for the navy evident in her powerful stride and eagerness to keep time.

“It was incredibly difficult this winter,” she told the Bureau. “I normally go out to start my round around 6am but there were some nights I’d find myself lying awake worrying about people, so I’d just get up earlier and check they were okay.”

Sonya is an outreach worker with Porchlight, a homelessness charity which works across the entirety of Kent. “People will sleep anywhere that is safe, if they are sleeping in the town centre it is for safety reasons, where they know cameras are, they know they have someone watching over them, or equally you get the people that go out in the woods by the rivers, tuck themselves away there where they feel they are not on show, they feel safe when no one knows where they are- those are the worrying ones, those are the ones we want to keep our eye on for their own safety.”

One of the people on Sonya’s watch was Shelly Pollard, a 42-year-old woman who was well-known around the city.

Many nights Pollard would bed down in the dimly lit doorway of a record music shop, the grand city walls visible from where she sat. Women make up around 22 per cent of rough sleepers in Canterbury, according to Porchlight, higher than the national average of 14 per cent. Sleeping where there is light and CCTV can provide some form of security.

“She was here every morning. She was always just here in the corner in the sleeping bag, maybe with some cardboard, sometimes spare clothes, you’d just hear snoring,” shop worker Alex Furness told the Bureau. “You couldn’t really believe she’d died until you heard it from a couple of people.”

A short distance down the road, watched over by a bronze statue of poet Geoffrey Chaucer, candles and flowers lay in tribute to Pollard. By the time of publication, a GoFundMe page trying to raise money for her funeral had raised £1,360 of its £4,000 goal.

Sonya is still shaken by Pollard’s death. But there is no time for her to stop. She covers a huge patch and spends her days scouring the streets and woods around the city, checking in with those that are rough sleeping.

“Sonya is fantastic, she can get people to talk to her who would never open up to anyone else,” said Mike Barrett, Chief Executive of Porchlight. “She was keeping almost a daily watch on Pollard. Sadly now Pollard has passed away.

“Her death is an example of the end of a process that is not fit for purpose, which is destructive and immoral.”

Barrett can reel off a long list of things he thinks are causing the increase in homelessness in the area and across the country: cuts to mental health services, lack of regulations around private landlords, landlords refusing to take those on Universal Credit.

Those issues, he says, are compounded by funding cuts to homelessness services.

“The cuts have impacted to a point where some services have closed. Others are so diluted they can’t do what they were set up to do”, said Barrett.

“Years ago Porchlight had 28 outreach workers. In 2011 our budgets were cut by 75 per cent and we ended up with a team of four [outreach workers]. So the charity, our board decided to pump some of our own reserves into it and we’re still doing that. But we’ve only got a team of 11, ”said Barrett. “The whole funding environment has returned to what it was in the 80s,” he added.

The Homeless Reduction Act, which was brought in earlier this month, puts more responsibility on councils to prevent homelessness and provides some additional funds. But many in the sector told the Bureau they are worried it is not enough to counter the cuts that have already happened.

A recent survey of local authorities, by the homeless charity Crisis, found that 74 per cent warned that a roll-out of Universal Credit would significantly increase homelessness in their area. Nearly half also feared the lowering of the total benefit cap would significantly increase homelessness.

Farahi, Pollard and Robert died within weeks of each other. At least seven more people died while homeless in March too, according to the names compiled by the Bureau. The true figure is likely to be much higher.

Matt Downie, Director of Policy and External Affairs at Crisis, said: “The Bureau’s figures are a devastating reminder that rough sleeping is beyond dangerous – it’s deadly, and it’s claiming more and more lives each year.

“Those sleeping on our streets are exposed to everything from sub-zero temperatures, to violence and abuse, and fatal illnesses. They are 17 times more likely to be a victim of violence, twice as likely to die from infections, and nine times more likely to commit suicide. What’s worse, we know these figures are likely to be an underestimate."

“It is extraordinary and unacceptable that nationally data on rough sleepers is so limited”, said Jeremy Swain of Thames Reach.

Thames Reach, along with other homeless charities, has now pledged support for the Bureau’s Dying Homeless project.

Prime Minister Theresa May has pledged to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminate it totally by 2027.

Responding to the Bureau’s findings, a government spokesperson said: “Every death of someone sleeping rough on our streets is one too many. We are taking bold action and have committed to halving rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminating it by 2027.

“We are investing £1.2bn to tackle all forms of homelessness and earlier this month the Homeless Reduction Act, the most ambitious legislation in this area in decades, came into force."

Farahi’s death is still being investigated by the coroner’s office. Around a week after he passed away his hero Stephen Hawking died. Hawking was buried with ceremony 17 days later, on 31 March. Farahi is yet to be buried. 

His car sits, stuffed with his belongings, the only remaining marker of his life.

This article first appeared in the 16 November 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The plot to stop Brexit