Over the last year hundreds of people have died while homeless in the UK. Some died on the streets, some died in hospitals, others in temporary shelters or hostels. Some people were found dead in tents in woodland. At least 449 homeless people, but probably more, lost their lives.
The shocking toll horrified Britain. When we broke the story of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s findings following its year-long study, the outcry was loud and understandable. The premature and preventable death count is a national tragedy. The causes of their deaths range from illness and exposure to prolonged starvation, drug overdoses, violence, murder and suicide, with an average age of just 49 for the men and 53 for the women.
Following this investigation, the Office for National Statistics announced it too would start counting homeless deaths. At the very least it will mean the most marginalised people in life are not simply forgotten in death.
With another bitterly cold winter forecast, the challenges for people in Britain who find themselves homeless will not lessen. At The Big Issue we advocate prevention. We want to see clear and early help for those who may fall into poverty and homelessness. We believe that this is the proper way to deal with the issue.
We will not stand by
However, it won’t help people right at the sharp end, people who need assistance now. Of course, selling The Big Issue is a great means to work out of poverty. But sometimes this is not enough. There needs to be a collective coming together of plans for help and intervention. At The Big Issue we frequently speak for those without a voice. We advocate on their behalf and we take their fight to the corridors of power. As we mark our 27th birthday, that is exactly what we’re doing. This week we challenge national and metropolitan leaders to clearly set out the measures they are implementing to prevent people dying on the streets this winter.
And now we’re going to watch and hold them to account if they don’t act on these plans.