Number of deaths of homeless people falls for the first time in seven years

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The number of homeless people dying has fallen for the first time in seven years because of the accommodation scheme during the pandemic, government figures revealed.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) data showed there were an estimated 688 homeless deaths in 2020, a rate of at least two people a day.

That is a decrease of 11.6 per cent from 2019, when there were 778 estimated deaths.

The 2020 figure represents the first fall in the number of estimated deaths of homeless people since 2014.

However, despite the decrease, the ONS said that the latest estimated number of deaths of homeless people is still 42.7 per cent higher than when its records began in 2013. It also warned that the figure may be an “underestimate” and that the true level is higher.

The statistics showed that almost two in five deaths of homeless people in 2020 were related to drug poisoning – a total of 265 estimated deaths, 38.5 per cent of the total number. That is consistent with previous years.

Suicide deaths registered among homeless people fell by around a third since the record high seen in 2019, dropping from 112 in 2019 to 74 in 2020. That means the rate has returned to a level consistent with the 2013 to 2018 period, when it ranged from 72 to 86 estimated deaths annually.

Deaths could increase as virus continues to circulate

Researchers said that the overall death statistics for 2020 were impacted by the Everyone In scheme.

Under the scheme, more than 37,000 homeless people were provided with emergency accommodation, including hotels and other locations not typically used to house homeless people, since March 2020.

The ONS said that because there is no centralised record of these accommodations, “it is difficult to identify deaths of homeless people housed under this scheme”.

As a result, the 2020 figures “may underestimate the true number of homeless deaths”, it warned.

Responding to the data, Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, warned that the number of deaths could increase as coronavirus continues to circulate throughout the winter.

She said: “To think at least 688 people’s final days were spent homeless in the pandemic is a sobering thought. If it wasn’t for the Government’s Covid response to help people off the streets, even more lives would have been lost.

“As we head into another hard winter, with the virus still circulating, we cannot leave anyone out in the cold. Our services are already being approached by people in need of emergency accommodation, who are being turned away by councils and often told they have no rights.

“The Government must step in again to keep people safe from Covid and the ravages of homelessness this winter. Councils need clear guidance to ensure everyone at risk of sleeping rough is offered emergency accommodation, and the funding to provide it.”  

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