Scottish homeless deaths to be officially published from next month

Scotland’s national records office is to publish official statistics on the number of people who have died while homeless for the first time next month.

This February’s publication of statistics for both 2017 and 2018 comes after The Ferret – working in partnership with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism – investigated and found that almost two people every week died while homeless. It is anticipated that official figures will be higher.

Homeless deaths recorded by The Ferret included some on the city streets. However many were housed in temporary accommodation such as hostels, homeless B&Bs or were sofa surfing when they died. One man died in Glasgow’s Winter Night Shelter in January 2018. Drug overdoses were implicated in many of the deaths.

‘Let us remember them’: Scots count shows almost two people a week die while homeless

Drug related death statistics are collated nationally in order for preventative plans to be agreed and implemented, though reports suggest figures for 2019 may be delayed.

However, the numbers who die while homeless have until now only been recorded at a local level and are not published or made public.

The Bureau’s Dying Homeless Project, which first started recording deaths on 1 October 2017, revealed in the year ending October 2018 that at least 449 people died while homeless across the UK, more than one person a day. It anticipated this was an underestimate.

Following its findings, the Office for National Statistics started publishing figures for England and Wales. They revealed that 597 people died while homeless in 2017, while in 2018 the figure rose to 726.

Although The Ferret previously reported on a commitment from the National Records of Scotland that it would follow suit, it took over a year for confirmation of its first bulletin, which will now be released on 5 February.

Last March our investigations suggested at least 139 people had lost their lives while homeless in an 18-month period. Several local authorities did not provide data – others provided fuller figures when originally Freedom of Information requests were queried.

Those who died included 64 people in Glasgow. One woman in her early thirties was found dead in a tent near the city centre by police, in mid-January 2019. The body of another homeless man was found behind an industrial bin in the same month.

In Edinburgh, they included Darren Greenfield, a homeless ex-soldier who died in December 2017 after contracting an infection while sleeping rough in Edinburgh. In early 2018 an unidentified man was found dead in the city, sleeping rough on a mattress in -5C.

It is important that these figures are recorded. The lives of people who die while homeless must count. Graeme Brown, Shelter Scotland

A spokesman for the National Records of Scotland, confirmed it “will publish experimental statistics on homeless deaths in Scotland for the first time early next month in response to user demand”.

He added: “The methodology used to produce these figures is still being developed and they are being released now to encourage feedback from users. This will allow us to further develop and improve the statistics in future.

The organisation has worked closely with the ONS on data collection methods for Scottish figures, he added.

Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, welcomed the news that statistics were to be collected nationally. He said: “It is important that these figures are recorded. The lives of people who die while homeless must count.”

However, he claimed that the collection of data was just the start. “We must also see action to ensure this tragic loss of life is prevented with improvements to the way health, housing and other services work together,” he added.

The Scottish Government, local authorities and some housing charities are working on the Scottish roll-out of Housing First – an approach which sees street homeless people given their own accommodation along with with wrap around services, rather than hostel beds or similar until they are deemed to be “tenancy ready”.

However, concerns have been raised that cuts to supported accommodation and an over-reliance on substandard B&B style accommodation – where staff are not trained to deal with vulnerable residents across many local authorities – could put people at risk.

Publishing the statistics on the deaths of people affected by homelessness in Scotland can help us understand how and where these deaths are taking place so that we can work towards preventing them. Jon Sparkes, Crisis

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of UK homeless charity Crisis, said: “It’s only right that we look after everyone in our society, especially the most vulnerable. Publishing the statistics on the deaths of people affected by homelessness in Scotland can help us understand how and where these deaths are taking place so that we can work towards preventing them, and also assess if the situation is getting worse.

“In England the statistics have helped to highlight this issue by creating media coverage and raising public awareness. However more needs to be done to prevent these tragic and avoidable deaths from taking place. It’s unacceptable that anyone is still forced to sleep on the streets where they are often exposed to sub-zero temperatures and experience violent crime.”

Sparkes also welcomed the Scottish Government’s Ending Homelessness Together plan – published in November 18 – which he said aimed to take steps to tackle homelessness and to prevent it from happening in the first place. But he claimed more action was needed, including “building the number of social homes we need and strengthening our welfare system to support people when they fall on hard times”.

Scotland’s Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said: “We are determined to prevent and end homelessness and rough sleeping. These statistics will add to our evidence base and understanding of how we can better support those who are rough sleeping or experiencing homelessness.

“The avoidable death of any vulnerable person is a tragedy and we continue to work with partners to develop support aimed at tackling the risk of homelessness through our Housing First approach, ensuring  stable, settled accommodation with intensive support for those who may have more complex needs. Our Ending Homelessness together action plan sets out how we are acting together across public services to implement shared solutions to these challenging issues.”

Photo thanks to iStock/Derick Hudson

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