About 20 homeless people in Glasgow have died in the last six weeks, The Ferret has learned.
The spate of deaths has been described as “alarming”, and there could be more. Many of the deaths have been blamed on the availability of a drug known as street valium.
The Ferret understands that up to 20 people in the city’s temporary homeless accommodation have died since mid-December. But with other deaths reported on the streets and in bed and breakfast accommodation used for the homeless, sources say the figure could be higher.
Toxicology reports are still outstanding on many cases, but homeless workers claim most are drug related – though not all. Such is the extent of the problem that one homeless woman gave staff details of her family so they could be informed in the event of her death.
The Ferret was not able to confirm the exact number. But statistics include “almost 20” in homeless accommodation provided by Glasgow city council, as well as four who died on the streets. One woman died in her tent on Watson Street, just off the Gallowgate in the city.
Believed to be in her thirties, she was found dead by police at around 11.40am on 17 January. Sources said she had spent the previous night at the Glasgow Winter Night Shelter, which is run by the Glasgow City Mission in a day centre in East Campbell Street.
Another three men, understood to be sleeping rough, were found dead on the streets. Toxicology reports have not yet been confirmed but their deaths are thought to be drug related.
A number of deaths have taken place in hostels and homeless accommodation including that provided by the Blue Triangle and the Simon Community. One man died last week in the Copland Hotel used as bed and breakfast accommodation for the homeless.
The revelations come as Glasgow City Council issued a warning on the dangers of street valium, which is killing drug users across the city. The street drug, a blue pill sold by dealers for recreational use, is particularly dangerous when mixed with other drugs such as heroin and alcohol.
Some claimed that those in the homeless community may be particularly vulnerable to dealers who are said to be “flooding” the Glasgow-wide drugs market with pills, which are available for pennies.
Early data shows there was a 43 per cent rise in the number of people who died of drugs overdoses in Glasgow from January to October last year compared with the same period in 2017. An increasing number of people were also being treated for non-fatal overdoses at hospitals and by crisis services across the city.
Reported use of naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of an opiate overdose which is supplied to drug users and trained relatives and friends, have also increased.
Susanne Millar, chair of Glasgow’s Alcohol and Drug Partnership, described the number of drug deaths linked to street valium among people in homeless accommodation as “unprecedented”.
“People are dicing with death by taking this drug, particularly if it is mixed with alcohol and other drugs. Warnings have been issued to people by homelessness and addictions services but sadly dealers are targeting the most vulnerable,” she said.
“A number of deaths have taken place among residents of settled homeless accommodation which is tragic and very unusual. Support is being offered to frontline staff who are being confronted by human tragedies when going to check on service users.”
Hugh Hill, operations director for the Simon Community, said that the organisation was urgently trying to address ways of keeping all of its service users and residents safe. “We are concerned about the current risks to people within our services and have seen an increase in overdoses related to street valium,” he added.
“We had one girl passing on details of her family to staff as she was concerned she might not be around for long. That kind of anxiety amongst the homeless community is both upsetting and worrying.
“We’re doing everything we can to help keep people safe including life saving staff training, working closely with partner agencies and working with people we support on safety planning.”
Stephen Mitchell, assistant day centre manager at the Lodging House Mission, confirmed he knew of several people who used the centres services that had died in recent weeks.
“We need to get better at embracing the needs of those who currently do not engage, who are at the extreme edges of the margins and for some reason just “bounce off” a system that doesn’t adequately meet all their needs,” he said.
He also questioned which agencies had access to information gathered by Glasgow City Council’s critical incident and homeless deaths group, set up in 2016. He suggested it could be helpful for all relevant partner organisations to feed in to this process.
Glasgow MSP and Scottish Labour spokeswoman on housing, Pauline McNeill, called for the deaths to be investigated. She intends to write to Glasgow’s Health and Social Care Partnership to stress the need for transparency on the issue.
“It’s very alarming. Any death on the street causes alarm. If there is a suggestion of a specific trend then we need a proper investigation. We really need to know what is going on here,” she said.
“At the moment we don’t know what came first. Did they turn to drugs because they were homeless or are they homeless as a result of their addiction? We do need to know as much as possible so that we can try to prevent more deaths. We need to get to the bottom of it as a matter of urgency.”
Glasgow figures show 47 people with open homelessness assessments died in the city between October 2017 and October 2018. These included people in temporary furnished flats and hostel accommodation.
According to research by Crisis, the average age of death for homeless men is 47 and 43 for women. For the general population it is 74 for men and 80 for women. Recent research by the Scottish Government also confirmed homeless people are at much greater risk of premature death than the general population.
Drug deaths have also been increasing in the city. There were 934 deaths from a drug overdose registered in Scotland in 2017, 30 per cent of which were in Greater Glasgow and Clyde.
Saket Priyadarshi, associate medical director of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde addiction services, said he feared valium pills, known as street blues, were currently a factor in the vast majority of fatal drug overdoses in the city.
“I have been very concerned about the use of street blues for some time now. When people buy street blues, they do not know what is in the pills. The quality and dosage can be very variable,” he added.
“The use of this drug in particular is associated with severe harm – from non-fatal overdoses and presentations to emergency departments to fatalities.”
David Liddell, chief executive of Scottish Drugs Forum, said: “This is concerning and unfortunately mirrors anecdotal evidence from elsewhere that there is an increase in drug deaths. There is a growing concern over poly-drug use involving heroin and benzodiazepines – street valium – and stimulants including cocaine and crack cocaine.”
He claimed the only way to protect people with an opiate-based drug problem was to ensure that they had good access to effective treatment. “Homelessness should not mean accessing and staying in services is more difficult; unfortunately it seems that it does,” he added.
“They are legally entitled to a tenancy and offering the support to allow them to stay in a home through a housing first approach would contribute greatly to people being able to make progress.”