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Inspirational homelessness activist dies

16 January 2017


Jimmy Carlson, who has sadly passed away aged 69
Jimmy Carlson, who has sadly passed away aged 69.

Jimmy Carlson an inspirational activist who was awarded an OBE for services to combating homelessness has died aged 69.

Jimmy was a former rough sleeper who spent nearly a quarter of a century living on the streets and in hostels – after five years serving as a soldier with the Royal Pioneer Corps.

Jimmy became abstinent from his alcohol addiction in 1996 and spent the next 20 years dedicating his life to tackling homelessness. 

Jimmy began volunteering with the homelessness charity Groundswell in 1997 and was the leading figure at the organisation for 20 years – serving as a Trustee for the past five years. His passion was ensuring that homeless people themselves had a voice – and could be directly involved in tackling homelessness.

According to Groundswell Chief Executive, Athol Halle: “Homelessness has been on the rise for the past six years. Now more than ever we need inspirational leaders like Jimmy Carlson – to wake our society up to the fact that homelessness is unacceptable. Jimmy showed us that with passion and commitment you can achieve wonders – and that the best thing you can do for someone who is homeless is give them the opportunity to make a contribution.”

Jimmy created the Homeless People’s Commission with Groundswell – collecting homeless people’s views from around the UK and presenting policy recommendations in the House of Lords in 2011.

Prior to that Jimmy delivered training on client involvement around the UK and was responsible for setting up numerous client involvement groups – including Outside In, the client involvement group for St Mungo’s, London’s largest homelessness service provider in 2006.

Jimmy was responsible for pioneering the ‘Speakout’ with Groundswell in the late 1990s running hundreds of events around the country where homeless people could talk directly to those in power.

Jimmy also served as a Trustee for the Museum of Homelessness, and was preparing an exhibition to be launched at the Tate Modern in April 2017.

Jess Turtle, co-founder, said: “Jimmy was instrumental in the development of the Museum of Homelessness; a champion, a wise counsel and a dear friend. This is a devastating loss for us and for the many others who knew and loved him.”

Jimmy was also involved in setting up The Haven, a club where people in recovery from substance misuse could meet in an alcohol and drug free environment, to help each other get their lives back on track. Starting with a £500 grant, Jimmy has raised over £100,000 to keep the club going.

Jimmy was born in Leeds in 1947 and passed away following respiratory health complications.

Jeremy Swain, Thames Reach Chief Executive, said: “For many years Jimmy Carlson had demons to battle which led to him becoming street homeless. Showing astonishing determination, Jimmy tackled his addiction problem and then went on to be a wonderful role model, working tirelessly to give people the confidence to take the same journey as himself and holding the government to account to tackle homelessness. We have lost a truly inspirational friend and colleague.”

On receiving his OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2012 Jimmy  said: “I am humbled to receive this honour. I have been to the very bottom and never would have imagined this day then. Lots of people have helped me on the way and I can only hope that my story can inspire others – the same way I have been helped.”

“My message is never give up on anyone. You would have walked over me in the street 15 years ago and thought I was a lost cause, just another drunk. However I picked myself up and turned my life around and I have gone on to make a decent contribution to my community. Rough sleepers you see on the street today – with the right support they have a lot to offer too. Never give up on anyone.”