Homeless deaths in the UK have increased by 80% da 2019. But we had a solution

Two years ago this week, the government launched a scheme called Everyone In, which did just what it said on the tin. It provided funding to ensure rough sleepers were housed in hotels or hostels during the first lockdown. In a single stroke, it essentially eradicated Britain’s street homelessness crisis.

It remains among the only positives to emerge from the pandemic, even if it was introduced to remedy an emergency the Conservatives had ignored during their previous decade in power.

We hoped at the time it would be the start of a concerted, long-term plan to deal with homelessness in general and street homelessness in particular. How naive we were. A few months later the government quietly pulled the plug on the programme. Look around you now, and it’s hard to imagine that rough sleepers were living in hotels only a couple of years ago.

Oggi, the Museum of Homelessness, which records the annual number of homeless deaths, published its latest findings – and they are horrific. Nel 2021, 1,286 people experiencing homelessness died in the UK. We are not talking about sofa surfers or those who have secured long-term accommodation in hostels such as the YMCA, the group that forms the vast majority of the estimated 274,000 homeless people in England solo. Anziché, we are talking about the most vulnerable people – rough sleepers or people placed in emergency accommodation and other insecure settings.

Questo è un 32% increase from the 2020 studia, and a shocking 80% increase from the number registered in 2019. A freedom of information request, coroners’ report, charity or family member verified each death.

The easy assumption is that many of the deaths are due to Covid. Sbagliato. Sorprendentemente, the Museum of Homelessness recorded only seven homeless people dying of Covid, showing how effective Everybody In was. (Figures from the Office for National Statistics are higher but still impressive). Quindi cosa è andato storto?

Per i principianti, according to Shelter, by June 2020, 77% del 37,430 persone helped under the Everyone In banner were not living in settled accommodation (somewhere they could stay for at least six months); and almost one in four were no longer being accommodated at all. Of those being accommodated, few received wraparound support to help with mental health and addictions.

When we wrote The empty doorway, a Guardian series telling the stories of people who had lived and died on the streets, we found that every person we profiled experienced poor mental health and dependency. They needed access to mental health and addiction services as much as secure housing, ma il Tories have stripped them to the bone. Nel frattempo, 41% of the homeless deaths reported by the Museum of Homelessness were related to drug and alcohol use, mentre 12% were suicides.

Street homelessness itself vastly increases the chance of dying young. According to the ONS, the mean age of death in England and Wales in 2019 era 45.9 for homeless men and 43.4 for homeless women, as opposed to a mean 76.1 e 80.9 per uomini e donne, rispettivamente, in the general population.

In several cases we examined, vulnerable people were placed in independent or semi-independent accommodation when it seemed apparent to us they needed to be supported. Twenty-two-year-old Jake Humm’s body lay undiscovered for two days at a Brighton YMCA in August 2018, even though he was documenting that he was drinking himself to death on his Facebook account. Former outreach worker Sharron Maasz, 44, died in women-only supported accommodation in Oxford after staff had allowed her “boyfriend” into the building. She died shortly after he shared drugs with her. And on it went. We felt all the deaths we investigated could have been avoided.

Perhaps the most alarming thing about the record number of people dying homeless is that the figures are likely to get far worse over the next few years. Those on benefits will suffer a considerable fall in living standards as benefits rise by just 3.1%, with inflation currently at 6.2%. According to the Resolution Foundation thinktank, di 1.3 million Britons will be pushed into absolute poverty by the cost of living crisis.

The more people living in poverty, the more will become homeless. A febbraio, Crisis and Heriot-Watt University forecast that più di 66,000 more people will be homeless by 2024, with the bulk of the increase being among people forced to “sofa surf”. They estimate that 8,000 more people will sleep rough and 9,000 people will be forced into unsuitable temporary accommodation.

Avoiding this catastrophe is not rocket science. We made this argument two years ago and the answer hasn’t changed: restore addiction treatment budgets, take rough sleepers off the streets and introduce Housing First, where homeless people are provided with secure homes – not hostels, not shelters, but real homes of their own – and then wraparound care tailored to their needs. The government also needs to extend the remit of the Care Quality Commission, so it can investigate the homes provided by private landlords for vulnerable people.

For those not convinced by the moral imperative here, know this: it costs far more to do nothing. Research conducted by Crisis found that “if 40,000 people were prevented from becoming homeless for one year in England, sarebbe save the public purse £370m".

Boris Johnson was determined to house rough sleepers at the start of the pandemic because he was terrified of dead homeless people’s bodies lining British streets. That never happened – partly because the government acted rapidly to house rough sleepers temporarily. But if he doesn’t take dramatic action this time round, on both the cost of living and homelessness, his worst nightmare may well become a reality.

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