The number of people who died whilst homeless in Scotland has risen, according to the latest official figures.
An estimated 216 people died in Scotland in 2019, according to new National Records of Scotland data, 21 more people than in 2018 – a rise of 11 per cent.
It means Scotland still has the highest homeless death rate when compared to England and Wales, with a rate of 52.2 per million population aged 15-74 compared to 18.0 in England and 14.3 in Wales.
Those who died in this time period include those found dead on the streets, as well as people in temporary homeless accommodation, including hostels and homeless B&Bs, usually funded by councils.
They include the deaths of Mark Starr, who died on the streets of Glasgow in 20 June 2019. Also included in the statistics are a spate of nine deaths in Glasgow in January 2019.
The Ferret previously reported fears that several of the deaths were linked to a batch of street valium containing Etizolam, which was circulating in homeless communities living in temporary accommodation.
Shelter Scotland has called on the Scottish Government to match its £3.5bn commitment to deliver more affordable and social homes over the next five years with a new plan to reduce housing inequality when it announces its Housing 2040 strategy next month.
Alison Watson, Director of Shelter Scotland, said: “The rising number of people dying at an ever younger age while experiencing homelessness is shocking.
“Housing is a matter of life and death. These deaths fall in the long shadow cast by the shortage of social housing.
“While not often a direct cause of death, being denied the security of a safe and affordable social home adds to the instability many need to rebuild their lives. It creates new health problems and exacerbates those that already exist.
“Scotland has some of the strongest laws protecting people against homelessness in the world and a commitment to innovate with new approaches like Housing First, but that system is constantly undermined by the shortage of permanent social housing.
“It is a shortage that leads to long stays in temporary accommodation, people trapped in hotels not homes, record numbers of children perpetually homeless.
“Today’s shocking statistics relate to the year before the pandemic. It shows we must never go back to the ways of the past.
“Next month the Scottish Government is expected to set out a new Housing 2040 strategy. Today’s figures show that building enough homes to reduce housing inequality isn’t just the right thing to do, it is the critical to the life and health of the people and communities of Scotland.”
It is only the second year that statistics on the number of people dying whilst homeless have been released.
They show that the average age at death for homesless people was 43 years for males and 39 years for females.
Responding to the figures, Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis, said: “It’s truly heart-breaking that hundreds of people died without the dignity of a safe home. Behind these statistics are real people with families, friends and their own individual stories, and they must not be forgotten.
“Far too many lives have been cut short and many of these deaths will have been avoidable. We need to learn from these failings and put in place measures to stop this from happening in the future.
“Action taken during the pandemic has proven that when the political will is there, we can save lives, but we are concerned that as the economic impact of lockdown hits, more people will be pushed towards losing their homes.
Registers of Scotland, along with the Office of National Statistics in England and Wales, began collecting them after research by The Ferret and the Bureau of Investigative Journalists first shone a light on the fact that no official data was collated on the deaths of homeless people.
The figures are still “experimental” in their methodology and some campaigners claim they are likely to underestimate the number of people who have died while homeless.
Julie Ramsay, head of vital events for the National Records of Scotland, said: “Given the importance of having information on the number of homeless deaths in Scotland, we worked with ONS to develop this methodology to provide estimates.
“While these statistics help our understanding of this issue, it’s important to understand these figures are currently experimental and the methodology is under development.
“These estimates do provide context and show that homeless deaths have increased for the second consecutive year, with an 11 per cent increase on the estimate in 2018.”
Photo thanks to iStock/Lucia Gajdosikova.
Correction 24/02/21: The number of homeless deaths in 2019 was 216, not 2016 as stated in an earlier version of this piece. An earlier version of the story also said that the figures were published by the Registers of Scotland. This was wrong. The story was amended with the correct source: the National Records of Scotland.