Two in five deaths of homeless people drug related

Almost two in five deaths of homeless people last year were related to drug poisoning, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The proportion remains consistent with previous years (

Deaths of homeless people have increased by more than 50 per cent in a decade.

There were almost 750 deaths of homeless people in England and Wales registered in 2021, says ONS, which also included more than 70 alcohol-specific deaths and almost 100 suicide deaths. By comparison, the number of deaths involving COVID-19 was 26, although this was twice the figure for the previous year.

The ONS data defines someone as homeless if they have been sleeping rough or using emergency or temporary accommodation at or around the time of death. Almost 90 per cent of the overall deaths were among men – again, consistent with previous years – and the highest number was recorded in the 45-49 age group. Most deaths were registered in London – at more than 150 – and the North West, but death registration delays mean that some of the deaths occurred in previous years, ONS points out. The number of deaths among homeless people has increased by more than 50 per cent since the ONS data time series began a decade ago.  

‘The deaths of 741 homeless people in England and Wales registered in 2021 represents an increase of 7.7 per cent (or 53 deaths) from 2020,’ said James Tucker of the ONS social care and health division. ‘The latest figure is more in line with pre-pandemic levels following a notable fall in 2020, although it’s too early to say whether this is a resumption of an upward trend in homeless deaths. Any death in these circumstances is a tragedy and our estimates are designed to help inform the work of everyone seeking to protect this highly vulnerable section of our community.’

So important that we focus on prevention, says St Mungo’s chief executive Emma Haddad

‘Each one these people was someone’s child, sister or brother – all with their own hopes and dreams,’ said St Mungo’s chief executive Emma Haddad. ‘Health and homelessness are inextricably linked and it is an awful reality that sleeping rough causes chronic illness and can lead to premature death, with the average age of death for someone living on the streets being around 30 years earlier than the general population. The government’s recently published rough sleeping strategy has a strong focus on prevention and tackling the root cause of homelessness. Today’s data shows yet again why it is so important we implement this to prevent people from ending up on our streets in the first place, especially as winter approaches, the current cost of living crisis worsens, and more people are facing losing their homes.’

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