In Britain, there is no centralised record of how and when homeless people die. Councils and coroners aren’t obliged to log their deaths, and local journalists and charities are often the only ones to report the deaths.
All too often, the deaths of the UK’s homeless population are noticed only by those who knew them personally.
The Bureau, working with charities and local newsrooms around the country, has created a website compiling all available information about the 78 people known to have died while homeless this winter.
As part of the project, the team spoke to councils, hospitals, coroners offices, police forces, and NGOs.
While some entries include names, photographs, and personal anecdotes, others are starkly bare — listed “unknown”, with just a place and a date.
Among the names are a gardener, a quantum physicist, a grandmother, a former soldier. The youngest was just 19, and 14 people were under 35 years old.
“Some died in doorways or in tents pitched in the snow,” writes the Bureau. “Others died in shelters or passed away in hospitals after living on the streets. Many were rough sleepers, others were statutory homeless and staying in temporary accommodation.”
On average, more than two people died while homeless every week in Britain, from October 1 to now — with at least 10 people dying in March alone.
Here are just a selection of the stories:
“Chris was 31 when he died in November 2017. Chris, who was known as ‘Bower’, became homeless after the death of his mother and brother. Local residents who knew him said he prioritised food for his dog over himself.”
“Thirty-two year old Lindy was found dead in Alexandra Gardens in Cardiff, nine days before Christmas 2017. She was living in a tent with her partner Michael, he found her dead in the tent. She had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. ‘It’s been a blur, I don’t know what’s going on, I don’t know where to turn,’ Michael told a reporter from Channel 4 news.”
“Christopher, who was in his 60s, died in a packed homeless shelter on Christmas Eve. A volunteer for Crisis described finding his body. ‘He lay down under a blanket on the floor in the sleeping area and never got up again’,’ wrote Ros Ponder on Facebook. ‘No one should be taking their last breath in a place like this — on the floor of a sports hall, in a makeshift dormitory shared with 130 other people who had nowhere else to go,’ she continued.’
“Danny, 26, had been living on the streets for several years. He died in the home of a local resident who had offered him a warm place during Storm Emma. An inquest is set to take place.”
As the first dataset of its kind, the Bureau is only too aware that its numbers are likely to be an underestimate.
“It is extraordinary and unacceptable that nationally data on rough sleepers is so limited,” said Thames Reach Chief Executive Jeremy Swain, to the Bureau.
The number of people sleeping rough in England is at the highest it’s ever been since records began, according to government figures released in January — which showed 4,751 people slept rough in 2017.
The 2017 numbers represent an increase of 15% compared to the 4,134 people counted in 2016 — which itself was a 16% increase on 2015.
Since 2010, numbers of those sleeping rough in England have risen by 169%. And campaigners believe these estimates still don’t capture the full scale of a problem.
Matt Downie, director of policy and external affairs at homelessness charity Crisis, said: “The Bureau’s figures are a devastating reminder that rough sleeping is beyond dangerous — it’s deadly, and it’s claiming more and more lives each year.”
The British government has pledged to halve the number of people sleeping rough by 2022, and eliminate it totally by 2027. The effort includes a pledge to spend £1.2 billion to tackle all forms of homelessness, and earlier this month, the Homeless Reduction Act came into force.
“To break the homelessness cycle once and for all, we are providing over £1 billion of funding, supporting rough sleepers with the most complex needs through a new Housing First approach and bringing in the most ambitious legislation in decades that will mean people get the support they need earlier,” said a spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government (MHCLG), at the time.
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