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Eileen Wallis grieving after son Robert dies in Catching Lives shelter in Canterbury

By Gerry Warren

The death of a homeless man in Canterbury marks a double tragedy for the mother he shared the city’s streets with.

Robert Wallis, 41, was discovered dead on Friday morning in a sleeping bag at the Catching Lives shelter, which had opened overnight because of the sub-zero temperatures.

His mother, Eileen Wallis, was also staying at the centre in Station Road East, which the pair had used regularly in the last few months.

Rob Wallis's mum Eileen
Rob Wallis's mum Eileen

She has now spoken of the horror of waking to find her son lifeless.

“I woke up and reached out for his hand but it felt really cold,” she said. “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.”

Robert was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after 7am, but police say his death is not being treated as suspicious.

The tragedy is the second to beset Mrs Wallis in recent years following the death of another son, Craig, who took his own life in 2012, aged 37.

Later the same year, Robert was left fighting for his life in a coma after he was brutally beaten in an assault which saw his attacker jailed for six years.

Rob Wallis, who died in the Catching Lives shelter
Rob Wallis, who died in the Catching Lives shelter

The family was living in a bungalow in Daytona Way, Studd Hill, at the time, but in the intervening years ended up sleeping rough on the streets.

Only last week Mrs Wallis spoke to the Gazette about the decision of Catching Lives to shut its day centre because clients were breaking rules and abusing drugs.

“It’s hard for us who are not part of the problem,” she said. “Now we are suffering and no one wants to help.”

But she and her son stayed at the shelter on Thursday night after it was opened up as part of the city council’s Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (Swep), which funds extra beds when temperatures are forecast to drop below zero for three nights running.

The centre’s general manager, Terry Gore, said: “Over the last few years we had not seen much of Robert - apart from the last few months when he had been using the service with his mother - but he has a historic connection with Canterbury Open Centre.

“He was always considered a likeable, good-hearted man and was well thought of by all who worked with him.

The Catching Lives day centre in Station Road East, Canterbury
The Catching Lives day centre in Station Road East, Canterbury

“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.”

City council spokesman Rob Davies said the authority had been working with Catching Lives and Porchlight to try and find Mr Wallis accommodation locally.

He added: “Our thoughts are with his family and friends and the Catching Lives staff who dealt with this distressing situation.”

Mr Wallis was born in Littlebourne but later moved to Canterbury, where he attended Sturry Primary School.

Police say a report into his death is being prepared for the coroner.

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