The number of deaths of people experiencing homelessness in 2020 has been revealed to be 688.

Although this is a decrease of 11.6% from 2019, which many believe is a sign that the measures during the pandemic saved lives, key figures in the sector called the numbers “a tragedy”.

13 deaths were from Covid-19.

The key statistics are as follows:

  • This year, 688 deaths of those experiencing homelessness were reported, a decrease of 11.6%
  • This decrease is not statistically significant and the figure is likely to underreport deaths, as the Everyone In scheme made it difficult to identify those experiencing homelessness
  • The average age of death for a man who is street homeless was 45, for women it was 41 – which is a fall of two years from the previous year
  • Of the total, one in five deaths occurred in London
  • 1.9% of all deaths (13) were from COVID-19
  • 61.4% of all deaths were from drug poisoning, alcohol or suicide (38.5%, 12.1% and 10.8%, respectively)

Rick Henderson, CEO at Homeless Link, said: “Any death of someone experiencing homelessness is a tragedy. These figures represent a diverse range of people, let down by systems that should protect them. Each death must be investigated to learn how to prevent people losing their lives too early in the future.

“688 deaths in a year is clearly unacceptable, as is the fact that the mean age at death for someone experiencing homelessness is 46 for men and 42 for women. In one of the richest societies in the world, this simply shouldn’t be the reality.

“But the fact that the number of deaths has officially gone down for the first time in five years and that there were so few deaths from COVID, despite the increased vulnerabilities of many who experience homelessness, is important.

“From April 2020 onwards, the Government provided anyone sleeping rough with accommodation as part of the Everyone In scheme. This shows the impact of providing stable accommodation, whilst treating homelessness as a health issue. We must continue to harness this approach moving forward.”

Cllr David Renard, Local Government Association housing spokesperson, said: “These are deeply distressing figures, with many of these deaths preventable. The concern is they could be just the tip of the iceberg and underestimate the true number of deaths of homeless people.

“They prove just how vital it is that we build on the success of Everyone In, which saw councils act rapidly to help rough sleepers off the streets during the pandemic, and make sure it is not just a one-off emergency response.

“For that to happen, we need a cross-departmental government plan to tackle homelessness with long-term investment in prevention and services to support economically vulnerable people and households to prevent homelessness from happening in the first place. Councils also need to be able to deliver a house-building programme of 100,000 social homes for rent each year to tackle our severe social housing shortage.

“Councils are determined to ensure vulnerable people have the right support and treatment. With two in five deaths related to drug poisoning, this highlights the critical need for public health services to be fully funded.”

St Mungo’s Chief Executive Steve Douglas CBE said: “We must remember that each of these deaths represents a person, someone’s son, daughter, sister or brother – and every one is a tragedy.

“What we know from our work out on the streets supporting people 365 days a year, from our clients’ experiences, and from our involvement with the Kerslake Commission, is that homelessness and health are inextricably linked.

“We have achieved a great deal treating homelessness as a public health emergency during Covid-19, however the work is not done.

“The positives achieved by the emergency response cannot be allowed to be lost. We must learn the lessons.

“The Kerslake Commission and its recommendations have provided a blueprint for what must be done if we are to end rough sleeping and move to a position where no one’s accommodation situation impacts on their life expectancy.

“Unless we adopt these recommendations, we risk more people coming to the streets, and more people dying on them as a result.”