At least 688 people died while homeless in England and Wales in 2020, according the latest official statistics, a slight fall attributed to the introduction of emergency accommodation for thousands of homeless people during lockdown.
It was the first annual decline in the number of estimated deaths of homeless people since records began in 2013, although statisticians warned difficulties in the collection of death registrations last year mean the figure may be an underestimation.
While lower than the record 778 homeless deaths figure in 2019, the total remains 42% higher than when records began in 2013. The highest death rates for homeless people were in the north-east of England and in London.
The biggest cause of death for homeless people in 2020 was, as in previous years, drug poisoning. There were 74 suicide deaths, down from 112 in 2019. An estimated 13 homeless people died after contracting Covid-19.
About 37,000 homeless people were provided with hotel accommodation during the early months of the pandemic in 2020, and the Everyone In scheme, together with a moratorium on evictions, is thought to have decreased the size of the homeless community, potentially reducing the number of deaths.
There were seven times as many homeless male deaths as female ones. The average age at which homeless men died was 45.9 years and for women it was 41.6, several decades younger than the average for non-homeless people.
An estimated 256 people died while homeless in Scotland in 2020, up 40 on the previous year, according to comparable figures published by National Records of Scotland on Tuesday. In Wales, 22 homeless people died in 2020.
Councillor David Renard, the Local Government Association’s housing spokesperson, said: “These are deeply distressing figures, with many of these deaths preventable. The concern is they could be just the tip of the iceberg and underestimate the true number of deaths of homeless people.
“They prove just how vital it is that we build on the success of Everyone In, which saw councils act rapidly to help rough sleepers off the streets during the pandemic, and make sure it is not just a one-off emergency response.”
Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of Crisis charity, said: “It’s simply devastating that hundreds of people were forced to spend their last days without the dignity of a place to call home. These deaths aren’t just numbers. Each individual was someone’s loved one whose life has been cut short and whose ambitions and dreams will now never be fulfilled.”
Polly Neate, the chief executive of Shelter, said: “If it wasn’t for the government’s Covid response to help people off the streets, even more lives would have been lost. As we head into another hard winter with the virus still circulating, we cannot leave anyone out in the cold. The government must step in again to keep people safe from Covid and the ravages of homelessness this winter.”
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has been approached for comment.