Two in five homeless deaths now drug-related

There were an estimated 726 deaths of homeless people in England and Wales registered during 2018, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) – a 22 per cent increase on the previous year. Two in five of the deaths were related to drug poisoning, representing a 55 per cent increase since 2017.

The ONS statistics include people either sleeping rough or using emergency accommodation such as homeless shelters or hostels. Almost 90 per cent of the total deaths were among men, with the mean age just 45 for males and 43 for females, compared to 76 and 81 in the general population. Suicide and alcohol-specific causes both also accounted for 12 per cent each of the estimated deaths.

A fifth of the overall deaths occurred in London, with a further 14 per cent in the North West. Among the drug-related deaths, opiates were the most frequently mentioned substances, with alcohol also mentioned on the death certificate in many cases.

‘The deaths of 726 homeless people in England and Wales recorded in 2018 represent an increase of over a fifth on the previous year. That’s the largest rise since these figures began in 2013,’ said head of health analysis and life events at ONS, Ben Humberstone. ‘A key driver of the change is the number of deaths related to drug poisoning, which are up by 55 per cent since 2017 compared to 16 per cent for the population as a whole. The ONS estimates are designed to help inform the work of everyone seeking to protect this highly vulnerable section of our community.’

Jon Sparkes: ‘Behind these statistics are human beings.’

Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes said it was ‘heartbreaking that hundreds of people were forced to spend the last days of their lives without the dignity of a secure home. Behind these statistics are human beings, who like all of us had talents and ambitions. They shouldn’t be dying unnoticed and unaccounted for. It’s crucial that governments urgently expand the safeguarding system used to investigate the deaths of vulnerable adults to include everyone who has died while street homeless, so we can help prevent more people from dying needlessly.’

‘Years of funding cuts have devastated crucial services supporting people who are homeless,’ added CEO of St Mungo’s, Howard Sinclair. ‘The human cost is a national tragedy.’

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