Scotland has a higher rate of homeless deaths than other UK countries, according to official statistics showing that 359 people died over a two-year period.
Charities are now calling for urgent action after National Records of Scotland (NRS) estimated 195 people died across Scotland in 2018, with a further 164 deaths recorded in 2017.
The rate of deaths per million population was over twice that of England where 692 deaths were recorded in 2018. It included those in temporary accommodation such as hostels and homeless bed and breakfasts, as well as on the streets.
The average age of death for women was 43, and 44 for men. Over the two year period, 13 men aged 15-24 were among those who died.
About half of the deaths were drug-related, highlighting a link between insecure housing and substance-related harm.
Death rates were particularly high in Glasgow with 63 deaths across the city in 2018 – a rate of 100.5 deaths per million population. Aberdeen’s death rate was also high – 15 people in 2018 – as was that in Shetland, where there were three deaths on the island. In Edinburgh 22 people died in 2018.
In 2017 74 per cent of those who died were men and in 2018 that rose to 79 per cent. A small but significant number of deaths were due to suicide – eight per cent of deaths in 2017 rising to 12 per cent in 2018. Other causes of death included alcohol related harm, mental health disorders, respiratory problems, heart disease, strokes and cancer.
Behind these figures are human beings - mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters. This is a damning and urgent reminder that we need to do so much more to support some of our most vulnerable citizens. Grant Campbell, Crisis Scotland
The NRS stressed that the figures were “experimental” and has pledged to continue to improve its methodology in coming years.
They were published following investigations by The Ferret as part of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s Dying Homeless project, which found that at last two people died every week between October 2018 and October 2019 across Scotland.
Amongst those who died over period were Ian Kirkland, 40, who was found dead on a piece of waste ground near Paisley city centre in August 2018. Stephanie Fraser was just 25 when she died in a Dundee hostel the same month.
Other deaths recorded by The Ferret included that of 42-year-old Chris, who died just over two years ago in a freezing cold night in Glasgow’s Winter Night Shelter, Robert – who had “a fantastic singing voice” – and Linda, described by one support worker as “proper lovely”.
Grant Campbell, director of the campaign group, Crisis Scotland, said the release of the figures should prompt a new approach where homeless death is investigated. Currently there is no statutory duty for this to happen.
“For the first time, we can see the true, devastating scale of the number of people who have died without a place to call home, because of failings within the very system which should have prevented them from falling into poverty and homelessness in the first place,” he said.
“Behind these figures are human beings – mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters. This is a damning and urgent reminder that we need to do so much more to support some of our most vulnerable citizens.”
Campbell added: “Every death must be fully investigated so that we can learn from the failings which caused someone to die without a home.”
It is vital that the effort to end this loss of life does not end with the publication of the figures Graeme Brown, Shelter Scotland
Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, agreed it was important to see the people behind the figures and remember the bereaved relatives and friends left behind.
“It is vital that the effort to end this loss of life does not end with the publication of the figures,” he said.
“The housing, health, social care and justice sectors need to work more closely together to ensure people get the tailored support they need for health issues such as mental illness and addictions. We also need to see housing that supports people to recover and stay well.”
Brown added: “The Housing First model is a good example of how this can be done but only if it is adequately resourced with good housing and highly-skilled professionals providing support services to ensure it reaches those most at risk.”
According to Scottish housing minister, Kevin Stewart, the figures highlighted a link between homelessness and drug deaths and reflected the wider public health crisis. “The reasons that lead to homelessness are often very complex, and many people who died while experiencing homelessness will have struggled with complex life challenges including addiction, poor mental health, and family breakdown,” he said.
“These challenges are often driven by a history of poverty, childhood adversity and trauma, including deteriorating physical and mental health, poor housing, contact with the criminal justice system, and other issues.
“While this report is based on experimental statistics, it’s findings will help the Scottish Government to further understand the many issues affecting the most vulnerable in our society and will help us as we double our efforts to eradicate homelessness and it’s causes, in Scotland.”
Photo thanks to iStock/Zhenikeyev.