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September 6, 2019
Homeless people's deaths 'up 24%' over five years

Homeless people’s deaths ‘up 24%’ over five years

Stockport Wellspring canteen

Image caption

Homeless charities say pressure on their services is increasing

An estimated 597 homeless people died in England and Wales last year, according to official figures published for the first time.

The figure represents a rise of 24% over five years, according to the Office for National Statistics.

These are the first official estimates of the number of deaths of homeless people, which show 84% of those who died were men.

Charities say the numbers confirm what they are seeing locally.

A detailed breakdown of the deaths shows:

  • more than half of the deaths were because of drug poisoning, liver disease or suicide
  • London and north-west England had the highest proportion of deaths
  • the average age of death was 44 for men and 42 for women, compared with 76 for men and 81 for women among the rest of the population

At The Wellspring charity for homeless and disadvantaged people in Stockport, staff and volunteers have created a mural in remembrance of those who have died.

Chief executive Jonathan Billings says he personally knows nine homeless people who have died in the past year alone.

He has worked there for 17 years and, while 10 years ago there might have been a few dozen people on the books, the numbers now run into hundreds – and more of them are dying.

“Almost certainly, over the five or six years, it has become much more prevalent that people we are working with are passing away.”

Each death is shocking, he says, and there are a multitude of causes, ranging from murder and suicide to drug and alcohol overdoses.

“Homelessness is just a symptom of something else. It is often a real concoction – a real mix of different issues that have caused that homelessness, and people’s deaths are often a mix of different things, different factors,” he says.

Image caption

Mark Urmston (left) says his brother Luke was found dead on a bench earlier this year

Mark Urmston, who visited the centre for some lunch, says his brother Luke, 31, a rough sleeper, was found dead on a bench earlier this year after a suspected drugs overdose.

They were in and out of care as children, he says, and both struggled with their mental health as adults.

“Everyone in my family has mental health issues but I think his might have been worse,” he says.

“I think he was taking more drugs than he was letting on.”

He says his brother became homeless because of his drug use – but being homeless made it very difficult for him to get off the drugs.

The Office of National Statistics says the deaths of homeless people were identified from death registration records, and statistical modelling was applied to estimate the most likely number of additional registrations not identified as homeless people.

The ONS says these are experimental figures which means they are not yet fully developed and are still subject to testing – but it says the method provides “a robust but conservative estimate, so the real numbers may still be higher”.

Source BBC News

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