Every so often, you come across an instance where those in positions of power or authority behave in ways that restore your faith in basic human decency and common sense. For the past 30 years or more, one such example could be found at the unlikely location of the central reservation of a Wolverhampton ring road.
Because that was where, until his death yesterday, 87-year-old Josef Stawinoga had made his home – and been tolerated by all the various authorities that might have used their powers to move him on – since at least the 1970s.
Stawinoga – who was known as Fred to virtually everyone who came across him locally – was a Polish man who came to Britain after the second world war. According to a report in the Guardian in 2003, he was a originally a hospital orderly in Wales. A brief marriage to an Austrian woman failed and he found work at a steelworks in Wolverhampton.
The Guardian quoted Juliusz Leonowicz, 73, a retired electrician said to be Stawinoga’s only close friend, as saying: ‘One day he simply didn’t turn up to work. We saw him in the city centre shortly afterwards, pushing his belongings around in a pram. He had always been a friendly, happy man, with a few mates. But when his income stopped, those mates dropped away.’
Stawinoga had developed a phobia of confined spaces and the ring road was one of the few places where he felt safe. Even so, most local authorities’ response to him setting up home there would have been eviction and most likely forced removal into institutional care. Instead, Wolverhampton city council provided him with a proper tent to replace his original plastic sheeting and basic services such as water and sanitation to ensure his needs were met.
In 2003, the council even called in the Territorial Army to provide him with what, by then, was his ninth replacement tent. A spokeswoman said: ‘Although this is not an ideal situation it has been accepted as the best option for him, taking into account his personal history and the fact that he can be visited daily by the council’s meals on wheels service.’
Since his death, the council has said that it will make and pay for the necessary funeral arrangements if no relatives come forward. For all of this, it deserves our plaudits.
There is a Facebook group dedicated to Josef Stawinoga
Sunday, 28 October 2007
Posted by Steve Platt at 00:06