New figures take homeless death toll to 139 in 18 months

At least 139 people have died while homeless in Scotland over the last 18 months, according to new statistics.

The deaths, which were revealed in freedom of information requests by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) and reported by investigative platform The Ferret, include 22 deaths in Glasgow between 1 November and 29 January, where at least four people died on the street.

New figures take homeless death toll to 139 in 18 months

It was reported in October that at least 94 men and women have died while homeless in Scotland in the previous 12 months. The Ferret added at the time that its investigations suggest the numbers were likely to be a “significant under-estimate”.

Now the updated figures have found a further 45 deaths logged by local authorities.

One woman, understood to be in her early thirties, was found dead in a tent near the city centre by police, in mid-January. The body of another homeless man was found behind an industrial bin in the same month.

Others died in hostels including council commissioned services, and bed and breakfasts used as emergency accommodation for homeless people.

Addictions experts have previously voiced fears that street drugs being sold as Valium are linked to a number of homeless deaths in Glasgow.

The warning came after a manager of The Lodging House Mission, which hosts the Glasgow Winter Night Shelter, said one homeless person is dying while sleeping rough in the city every month. Gus Smeaton also said the popularity of drugs such as valium and opiates could be a contributing factor for the rising number of deaths. 

The new figures bring the Glasgow total to 64 over 18 months.

In Edinburgh three people died in November and another two in February, taking the total to 28 since TBIJ’s Dying Homeless project started recording deaths in October 2017.

The new figures show two people died in temporary homeless accommodation in Renfrewshire, one in East Ayrshire and other in Stirling.

In total at least 798 people across the UK have died while homeless since October 2017, an average of 11 people per week according to the figures gathered as part of the Dying Homeless project.

More than a quarter were under 40, and died from a range of seemingly preventable or treatable causes including tuberculosis, cancers, liver damage, sepsis, violent attacks, drug overdoses and suicide.

Hugh Hill, operations manager of the Simon Community, which provides street outreach services and supported accommodation in Glasgow, said the charity had been struck by the increasing number of deaths in the city in recent months.

“We continue to be deeply concerned by the risks people are exposed to and the significant increase in drug related deaths in Glasgow and across Scotland,” Mr Hill told The Ferret.

“The people we have lost have been some of the most vulnerable and excluded in our society. It is a tragic loss for people who have experienced significant trauma.

“Often drugs and alcohol are their way of coping when mental health and recovery services fail them. At the end of the day it’s a life of opportunity and hope lost. Each time someone has lost a son or daughter.”

Shelter Scotland called for every death to be reviewed, allowing important lessons to be learned that could save lives. “Behind these statistics are individual people who died in desperately sad circumstances,” said director, Graeme Brown.

“Shelter Scotland believes every one of these deaths should be reviewed as a matter of routine to identify systemic issues, which may be contributing to this tragic loss of life.”

Mr Brown added: “Much is already known about the risks that people face if they are not given access to both appropriate housing and support tailored to meet their needs – so in addition to investigation we must see national and local government act to prevent these deaths.”

Matt Downie, director of policy and external affairs at the homeless charity Crisis, said: “Ultimately, 800 people dying homeless is unacceptable. We have the solutions to ensure no one has to spend their last days without a safe, stable roof over their head.

“By tackling the root causes of homelessness, like building the number of social homes we need and making sure our welfare system is there to support people when they fall on hard times, governments in England, Scotland and Wales can build on the positive steps they’ve already taken to reduce and ultimately end homelessness.”

The National Records of Scotland (NRS) has said it is in touch with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and has pledged to conduct a review of its policy and practice regarding the recording of homeless deaths across the country.

The Scottish Government stressed the efforts it was making to tackle homelessness.

“The avoidable death of any vulnerable person in our society is a tragedy,” housing minister, Kevin Stewart, told The Ferret.

“Preventing and ending homelessness and rough sleeping are priorities for us and we are working with partners to transform the system so people can secure a permanent home, far more quickly, with support for their health and wellbeing if they need it.”

He added: “Expert advice makes clear that just providing someone with a house will not always be enough, especially if they have complex needs such as an alcohol or drug addiction. Our recently published Ending Homelessness Together action plan, in combination with other government strategies on mental health and addictions, sets out how we are acting together across public services to implement shared solutions to these complex issues.”

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