GMLC campaign volunteers Akinola Akinyanju and Rosie Coan summarise the Dying Homeless Project’s new report into deaths of homeless people in 2022.
For over a year, Greater Manchester Law Centre has been campaigning against the high death rates of people who are homeless. On 20 April 2023, the Dying Homeless Project published its 2022 report demonstrating this increase, and proposing recommendations to prevent further unnecessary deaths.
The Dying Homeless Project aims to remember those who have died whilst homeless with love and dignity, highlighting them as individuals to recognise the human loss behind the housing and social welfare crisis. A memorial, listing individuals, is held online through the Museum of Homelessness and can be accessed through the following link: Dying Homeless Project.
The Project also collects information from the public, grassroots groups, housing sector workers and Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to campaign for effective change which could prevent further unnecessary deaths. This report is the most recent culmination of these efforts.
Significant Increase of Death of Homeless Persons in the UK
The findings from the Dying Homeless Project show an 85% increase in the number of people dying while homeless in the UK since 2019. The figure as of 2022 reached 1313. Based on the report, more than 4000 people have died whilst homeless since 2019, and 85% are under the age of 65, with the highest proportion between the age of 33 and 55.
The definition of homelessness includes people who are living rough or are in any form of emergency or temporary accommodation and other insecure settings. According to statistics received in response to FOI requests, 83% of the deaths that occurred in 2022 took place after the person was placed in some form of homeless temporary accommodation. There is a strong likelihood that the total number of deaths is higher than that recorded because several local authorities did not respond to FOI requests, including Ealing, Hackney, Hillingdon, Lewisham, Blackpool, Fife and Birmingham.
In 2022, a specific request was made for deaths in exempt accommodation due to the growing concern as to the quality of such accommodation and support. Exempt accommodation is a type of supported housing for vulnerable people with care and support needs. This is not commissioned formally by local authorities, which arguably results in a lack of scrutiny and accountability as to the provision that is made for people’s care needs.
In response to FOI requests, most Local Authorities stated that they do not keep data relating to deaths in exempt accommodation. However, 12 local authorities did. From the data received, 151 persons died in exempt accommodation – the highest number being in Manchester with 109 deaths. This is an alarming rate for exempt accommodation, particularly in comparison to 21 deaths amongst the rest of the homeless population in Manchester. It is possible that the higher number reported in Manchester is due to the more detailed collection of data, which would indicate that homeless deaths elsewhere are being drastically undercounted. Either that, or something has gone horribly wrong in Manchester’s exempt accommodation. Either option requires further investigation by authorities responsible for commissioning exempt accommodation in Manchester and elsewhere.
The London Assembly Housing Committee has looked at exempt housing and issued a number of recommendations in response to its worries that exempt housing can be dangerous and of poor quality. The Supported Housing (Regulated Oversight) Bill 2022-23 is making its way through Parliament in relation to regulating this sector.
People’s Recovery Project
From the cases reported, the majority of homeless people whose deaths were recorded died from severe weather and health conditions. 36% of deaths were related to drugs and alcohol, and 10% of people died by suicide. This is similar to the report from 2021, which shows that numerous people died because they were unable to get access to life-saving drug and alcohol services. The report places a spotlight on the ‘People’s Recovery Project’, which members of the Dying Homeless Project coalition Ed Addison and Nathan Rosier launched in 2023 in light of the above problem. This is a not-for-profit organization that invests in recovery and funds treatment, giving homeless people and those with addictions more options and speedier pathways to recovery.
Of the 1313 persons who died, the gender of 789 were known. Of these, 72.6% were male, 27.2% were female and 0.1% were transgender women. The report claims that this data does not accurately reflect the number of people who do not identify as male or female. Further research cited in the report emphasises difficulties people who identify as transgender face when homeless, arguing that transphobic marginalisation in homelessness services is normalised.
It is therefore urged in the report that transgender and non-binary people are better supported, and policy makers tackle transphobia within their services and structures. Guidance published by the Outside Project and Homeless Link can be found here.
In the future, the Dying Homeless Project intends to further explore the impacts of gender and immigration status due to discrimination found based on gender identity, sexuality, nationality and ethnicity, which puts persons experiencing homelessness at higher levels of risk.
The Dying Homeless Coalition
In order to unite a diverse group of people who care about the issue of homeless deaths, the Dying Homeless Coalition was founded in 2020. These individuals include those who have personally experienced homelessness, activists, artists, people who work or volunteer in a variety of capacities with people who are homeless, and others. The Dying Homeless Coalition requested a National Confidential Enquiry in 2021 in response to the alarmingly increasing rate of fatalities among the homeless. The Dying Homeless Coalition is interested hearing from anyone who has feedback on any of the issues raised in this report, as well as any further data on local fatalities or actions being taken to address any of these issues locally. An email can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, to express interest in joining the Coalition.
The Dying Homeless Project provides the following recommendations, which are similar to those recommended in the past years:
- All local authorities must conduct mandatory fatality reviews, and there must be accountability procedures for using the lessons learned.
- Establish and support procedures to protect the rights of those who are homeless, including the right to life. This involves the correct provision of legal aid to provide access to justice as well as Bills of Rights (such as the one enacted by Brighton and Hove Council in 2021).
- Action is needed to expand the supply of council housing through improved planning, land availability, benefits, and spending such as the proposals given by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee (publicly released on July 27, 2020).
- Adopt the Social Housing Regulation Bill to enhance social housing oversight and quality control. It is critical that this incorporates the recommended adjustments to ensure that it covers exempt housing as well as temporary housing.
- Realise that a roof alone would not suffice. People require companionship, purpose, and meaning. Solutions should be developed with this in mind.
- Support and finance programs that advocate for community healing as a different, long-term strategy for addressing inequalities. Although access to and funding for mental health and substance use treatments are difficult to access, well-resourced communities are a potent force for change.
- Implement a genuine trauma-informed strategy for supporting people across services.