Housing

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

Homeless deaths tribute

Carla Ecola, the director of the LGBTQ+ homeless shelter The Outside Project, was among the campaigners laying candles on the landmark in memory of homeless deaths. Credit: Anthony Luvera

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.

Homeless deaths tribute London
Campaigners pay tribute to the 976 people who died while homeless in 2020
A total of 976 candles were laid on the steps at Nelson's Column and at the St Martin-in-the-Fields church in memory of those who lost their lives. Credit: Anthony Luvera

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?”

Homeless deaths tribute London
Campaigners pay tribute to the 976 people who died while homeless in 2020
The improvised temporary memorial is part of the growing campaign to prevent homeless deaths. Credit: Anthony Luvera

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.”

Homeless deaths tribute London
Campaigners pay tribute to the 976 people who died while homeless in 2020
The Museum of Homelessness accompanied the physical memorial with a social media campaign under the hashtag #MakeThemCount. Credit: Anthony Luvera

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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