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976 candles: One for each person who died while homeless in 2020

A candle was laid in Trafalgar Square in memory of every one of the 976 people who lost their life without a stable home in 2020, according to the Museum of Homelessness’ Dying Homeless project

Even the Covid-19 pandemic could not stop campaigners shining a light on homeless deaths this week.

The Museum of Homelessness’ Dying Homeless Coalition – a group of experts, frontline workers and journalists, including The Big Issue – paid a touching tribute to the 976 lives lost without the dignity of a home in 2020.

On Tuesday, a candle marking each person – some named in MOH’s harrowing count released earlier this week, others listed merely as unknown – was laid on Nelson’s Column in a deserted Trafalgar Square and St Martin-in-the-Fields church steps in recognition of a life lost too soon.

The count – sourced through freedom of information requests, news stories and public submissions -found a person experiencing homelessness died every nine and a half hours across all four countries in the UK – a 37 per cent rise on 2019.

Covid-19 accounted for only three per cent of deaths, lower than the 15 per cent caused by alcohol abuse or suicide, which was behind 36 per cent of deaths where a cause was confirmed. The average age of death was 43 for men and just 39 years of age for women.

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Homeless deaths only began being officially being counted in 2018 and campaigners want the newfound understanding of scale to translate into action in the form of a national enquiry into how deaths can be prevented.

Museum of Homelessness co-founder Matt Turtle said: “Little is being done with the official findings. We are asking, how are lessons being learned?”

In response to the MOH findings, a Government spokesperson told The Big Issue: “Every death of someone sleeping rough on our streets is a tragedy.

“We agree a safe home for all is vital – that’s why we’re providing over £700 million this year and £750 million next year to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, including delivering 3,300 long-term homes this year.”

The MOH count came a day before the National Records of Scotland released their own official homeless death figures for Scotland, revealing 216 people died without a stable home in 2019.

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