NEW RESEARCH has revealed an increase in the number of people dying whilst homeless.

The Dying Homeless Project recorded 976 deaths across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland in 2020, a 37 per cent increase in the numbers reported in its 2019 study.

The data was gathered through over 300 Freedom of Information Requests, local news sources, and a national network of organisations. The figures include the deaths of people who were living on the streets, sofa surfing, and in emergency or temporary accommodation for people who are homeless. The total number of deaths is likely to be higher than these figures suggest, as several local authorities did not respond to FOI requests. For example, there is no data for Birmingham, the UK’s second largest city, or a third of London boroughs.

The study found that the ‘Everyone In’ scheme met the goal of preventing homeless people dying from Covid-19, with fewer  than three per cent of recorded causes of death directly attributed to the disease. However, the Project says the provision of emergency hotel accommodation did not compensate for the cuts to welfare and mental health, addiction and housing services made before the pandemic. Of the cases in which cause of death was confirmed, 36 per cent were related to drug and alcohol use, 15 per cent died from suicide.

Many local authorities did not provide longer-term accommodation once the emergency programme ended. The Project says the £700 million package announced by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government appears to include just £109 million of new funds. This will leave spending significantly below 2010 levels, when homelessness was less than half of what it is today.

Jess Turtle, co-founder of the Museum of Homelessness said: “A hotel or hostel room is no substitute for a safe home. The government touts ‘Everyone In’ as a runaway success. But it didn’t stop a staggering increase in the number of people dying while homeless – despite the best efforts of our colleagues around the country who worked 24 hours a day on emergency response.

“These heart-breaking findings demonstrate how the pandemic hit a system already cut to the bone from 10 years of austerity and the scale of the challenge we face to recover. The government needs to stop repackaging old funding commitments as new support and do more to stop this terrible loss of life.”

The Dying Homeless Project coalition, which includes people affected by homelessness, experts in homelessness healthcare, homeless charities, grassroots activists, academics, journalists, artists and campaigners, is calling for a National Confidential Enquiry into homeless deaths to make the changes needed to save lives.

Co-founder Matt Turtle said: “The evidence has been building for years. Two years ago, the Government agreed to begin recording statistics for the first time but little is being done with the findings. We are asking, how are lessons being learned? We believe that far more needs to be done at a local and national level to change things. A National Confidential Enquiry would help ensure Government makes the long-term commitment needed.”

The Dying Homeless Project has two purposes: “First and foremost, we remember with love and dignity people who have died whilst homeless. The human cost of the homelessness and housing crisis is far too high. Individuals are often forgotten or ignored during their lives and also in death. This project aims to remember and honour each and every human behind the stark statistics.

“Secondly, we work with the findings of this project to campaign for change. We are working hard with partners in local government, law and health to prevent further unnecessary deaths. Where necessary, we hold those responsible for premature and preventable deaths to account.”

Campaigners will light candles on Tuesday 23 February to remember all those who died whilst homeless in 2020, and are asking for others to do the same and to share on social media. Their posts will read: “We remember all those who died whilst homeless in 2020, a person every nine and a half hours. Each one a person with hopes and dreams.” #MakeThemCount

* Visit the online memorial to those who have died homeless here .

* Source: Museum of Homelessness

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