When a person is homeless and needs help urgently, the council will often place them in temporary accommodation so that they have a safe place to stay. However, the hostels, hotels and supported houses generally used by councils as temporary accommodation often have no systems or training to ensure that their vulnerable homeless residents are safe. When serious injury or death occurs, they often have no procedures in place to review what when wrong or identify the steps needed to avoid harm and deaths in the future. Deaths of homeless people in temporary accommodation are often seen as individual tragedies, but the high level of fatalities suggests that the problem is both widespread and deteriorating, and it needs to be seen in this context.
The number of people dying homeless has only recently begun to be recorded. This is a problem reported in the Manchester Evening News twice in recent years, and by Maeve McClenaghan from the Investigative Bureau of Investigative Journalism in her book No Fixed Abode: Life and Death Among the UK’s Forgotten Homeless (2020). From 2013 – 2019 the Office of National Statistics report the number in England and Wales has risen by 61%.
In December 2020, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) released its most recent report in respect of deaths for 2019. They found:
- an estimated 778 deaths of homeless people in England and Wales registered in 2019, an increase of 7.2% from 2018
- 37% as a result of drug poisoning
- 30% as a result of suicide
- Manchester was the local authority with the highest number of homeless deaths – 28
Preventable deaths within temporary accommodation are an area of concern due to a reported steep rise in fatalities in 2020. Probably due to the short-term benefits of the government’s Everybody In scheme, less than 3% of the recorded causes of death were directly due to Covid-19, but this invites the question of why these deaths were occurring.
Figures collected by the Dying Homeless Project from 2019 showed that up to 40% of people who died while homeless were accessing some form of temporary accommodation at the time of their death.
At GMLC, we are campaigning around the issue of deaths in homeless accommodation. We are calling on the local authority to acknowledge the risk to life that arises in homeless temporary accommodation and agree to build in systems to the process of commissioning such accommodation that will minimise the risk of preventable deaths.
We acknowledge that this cannot be done instantly, but given the scale of the problem and the forecasts that homelessness is likely to increase further post-pandemic, steps need to be taken urgently to avoid further preventable deaths.