The first official homeless deaths count finds 597 people died in 2017

The England and Wales figures have increased by a quarter in five years, according to the Office for National Statistics

The first official count of homeless deaths has revealed that an estimated 597 people died in England and Wales in 2017.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that that the number of deaths had skyrocketed by a quarter in five years, the time period that they reported on in today’s statistics.

London and the North West of England had by far the highest number and ratio of deaths in 2017 with 136 and 119 respectively while London accounted for 23 per cent of the total number of recorded deaths.

Men made up a staggering 84 per cent of the homeless deaths last year with the average age of 44 years while it was 42 years for women, much lower than the 76 years and 81 years respectively for the general population.

Drug poisoning was the cause of death in 190 homeless deaths (32 per cent) last year – a figure that has dramatically increased by 51 per cent in five years.

ONS homeless deaths
ONS-homeless-deaths-2013-17

Combined with suicide and liver disease, drug poisoning accounted for over half of all homeless deaths in 2017.

“Every year hundreds of people die while homeless,” said Ben Humberstone, deputy director for Health Analysis and Life Events, Office for National Statistics.

“These are some of the most vulnerable members of our society so it was vital that we produced estimates of sufficient quality to properly shine a light on this critical issue. Today we have been able to do just that.”

The data comes just days after the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) confirmed that their own homeless death count, which preceded ONS’s announcement that they too would be releasing figures, had surpassed 550 people this year.

The two counts took different approaches to measuring the data with TBIJ crowdsourcing information from a network of journalists, charities and homelessness organisations while ONS analysed death registrations looking for clues, such as addresses of homeless shelters.

Big Issue founder John Bird commented on the figures on ITV’s lunchtime news. He said: “I’m not surprised because we don’t work all year round at getting rid of homelessness, there is a six-week window that starts around the middle of November and it goes until around the end of the Christmas party season and then by the middle of January we go about our lives and homelessness joins the 20 and 30 other reasons why we’re unhappy around poverty.

“The problem is that we are not having the right resources moved in to prevent homelessness, we are having austerity driving a coach and horses through local authorities’ cash and that has a marked effect. “We have got to put our help and resources behind those homeless organisations who get people off the streets and get them cleaned up, sort out their mental well-being issues, get them housed, and moving on. We do not put the resources there.”

The figures comes as news of the death of rough sleeper Gyula Remes was confirmed after he was found by police next to the entrance to parliament on Tuesday. The 43-year-old died in hospital after being discovered in a vulnerable state. Pam Orchard, chief executive of homelessness charity Connection at St Martin-in-the-Fields, paid tribute to Gyula, saying that he “died just as his life was turning around”.

“It’s shocking to think that hundreds of people faced the last days of their lives without the dignity of a secure roof over their head,” said Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes. “This is nothing short of a national tragedy – especially when we know that homelessness is not inevitable. In one of the world’s wealthiest countries, no one should be dying because of homelessness.

“Behind these statistics are human beings – mothers, fathers, daughters and sons – whose families will now be spending Christmas coming to terms with their loss. This has to change.

“We know that homelessness can be ended if the root causes of it are fixed – like building the number of social homes we need and making sure our welfare system is there.”