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Dying on the Streets

The case for moving quickly to end rough sleeping June 2018

Last year in England, more than 4,700 people slept rough on any one night, and a far larger number experienced rough sleeping during the course of the year. The number of people sleeping rough has risen by 169% since 2010, when the Government introduced the current method of counting.

As the number of people sleeping rough has risen, so too has the number of people dying on the streets. The only area with consistent data on this is London, where 158 people who were sleeping rough died between 2010 and 2017. That is an average of one death every fortnight. More than half of those who died had a mental health support need recorded.

In the UK as a whole, while rough sleeper deaths are not consistently recorded, recent reports suggest that the number of homeless people dying on the streets or in temporary accommodation has increased dramatically. Analysis by the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism suggests that the number of homeless deaths rose from 32 in 2013 to 77 in 2017.

In the first four months of 2018 alone there have already been 40 recorded deaths, higher than the figure for the whole of 2013 and an average of more than two deaths every week. In total, this suggests that at least 318 people experiencing homelessness have died in the UK since 2013.

Overwhelmingly, the deaths of these individuals are premature and entirely preventable. The average age of death for a man who dies whilst homeless is 47. For a woman, it is just 43.

This is nothing short of a national scandal. Rough sleeping is the most visible form of homelessness, and dying on the streets is its most appalling consequence. The recent rapid increase should be a wake up call for Government.

St Mungo’s has long campaigned to reduce the harm caused by rough sleeping. In February 2016 we launched our ‘Stop the Scandal’ campaign which shone a light on the widespread experience of violence, mental health and physical health problems faced by people sleeping rough.

Our campaign called on the Government to commit to a new strategy to end rough sleeping, and we are pleased that the Government has responded and will be publishing a national rough sleeping strategy later this year. Alongside the implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act, this strategy presents a vital opportunity to make sure no one else dies as a result of sleeping rough.

To gather evidence on what is and is not working about current responses to rough sleeping, we carried out a national survey of street outreach services in March and April 2018. 71 responses were received from a variety of different providers, including but not limited to St Mungo’s We received responses from services operating in every region in England . We asked 37 questions, mostly multiple choice and some open ended, to build a better picture of the situation on the frontline.