Dying Homeless – a year on: A Bureau Local project to record the deaths of homeless people and tell their stories

You can find more detail and search for your locally relevant findings in our database which you can access here.

Please remember to link to our Dying Homeless page and, where possible, encourage people to tell us of more deaths in the future using our form.

Caveats on the figures

  • We have recorded deaths where we heard of them but this list is far from definitive – we know this is likely to be a large underestimate. Therefore take care not to directly compare one area with another (e.g. “X has had more deaths than Y”, because it may simply be that more deaths were reported to us in X.)
  • These are not only rough sleeper deaths. Our definition of homeless includes rough sleepers, those in temporary accommodation like hostels and B&Bs, or those longterm sofa-surfing. In Northern Ireland it includes all those on the Housing Executive waiting list, who are officially classified as homeless and are waiting to be permanently housed. Most are in some form of temporary accommodation while they wait.

UK-wide findings

At least 449 people have died homeless in the last year all across the UK, more than a person a day, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism can reveal. [From 1 October 2017 to 1 October 2018].

They include a former soldier, a physicist, a travelling musician, a father of two who volunteered in his community, a chatty Big Issue seller, and others.

Some were found in shop doorways in the height of summer, others in tents hidden in winter woodland. Some were sent, terminally ill, to dingy hostels and yet others saw out their last days in hospital beds. Some lay dead for hours, weeks or months before anyone found them. Three men’s bodies were so badly decomposed by the time they were discovered that forensic testing was needed to identify them.

They died from violence, drug overdoses, terminal illnesses, and suicide, amongst other reasons. One man’s body showed signs of prolonged starvation.

No official organisation counts homeless deaths across the UK so the Bureau spent months working with local journalists, charities and grassroots outreach groups to come up with the first ever nationwide count. Despite recording deaths wherever we saw them, the true figure is likely to be significantly higher.

Counting the dead

We tried to collect as much data as we could for each person but in some cases the amount of information we got varied – we have tried to make this clear below.

Of the 449 deaths in our database, we are able to publicly identify 138 people (we withheld the identity of several more at the behest of those that knew them).

For those where we had information about where they died (128), more than half died on the streets (65). Others died in hospitals (16) or in temporary accommodation (47). [The deaths we counted included those sleeping rough, staying in temporary accommodation like hostels or B&Bs or those sofa-surfing.]

69% of those that died were men and 21% were women. (For the remaining 10% we did not have a gender identified – we were able to log the reported genders of 404 people).

For those where we know the age (348 people), the average age of death for men was 49 years old and 53 years for women (note – this is not the same as average life expectancy). Those that have died ranged from 18 years old to 94 years old.

January was the worst month for homeless deaths, (at least 33 people died in Great Britain).

England and Wales – deaths

258 of the cases we counted were in England and Wales, in part because systems to count in London are better developed than elsewhere in the UK.

109 of the recorded deaths happened in London. The capital has the highest recorded rough sleeper count in England, according to official statistics1, and information on the well-being of those living homeless is held in a centralised system called CHAIN. While this is not an official database of death records, it allowed us to track what happened to many of the homeless people in the capital.

However, the Bureau also heard of dozens of deaths that weren’t on the CHAIN database.

Of the 20 deaths around Brighton and Hove, the majority were gathered through local charities and doctors keeping their own count.

In Bristol, 11 deaths were sought out and logged by local reporter Michael Yong.

Scotland – deaths

At least 42 people died in Scotland in the last year, though this is likely a big underestimate.

Many of the deaths we registered happened in Edinburgh, while others were logged from Glasgow, Angus, the Shetland Islands and the Outer Hebrides.

Northern Ireland – deaths

Northern Irish authorities are grappling with a huge spike in homelessness in the country. The number of homeless people rose by 32% between 2012 and 20172.

The Bureau, working with The Detail, found 148 people died in Northern Ireland while waiting to be housed by the country’s Housing Executive. These people were classified as officially homeless though some may have been in leased accommodation while they waited. Another man was reported as dying while in a temporary shelter and not on the Housing Executive list.

The data we have shows the date when the housing application was closed (because the person died.)

Collecting data from Northern Ireland proved more simple than for the rest of the UK given the fact responsibility for homelessness is centralised in the Housing Executive, so we were able to request it under the Freedom of Information Act.

Homelessness on the rise

Homelessness is on the rise across the UK. The number of people classed as officially homeless has risen by 8%3 in England and Wales in the last five years, while the number of people sleeping rough has doubled. [In England you can find out more about your region’s figures and changes over time here.]

In Scotland the number of people applying to be classed as homeless rose last year for the first time in nine years4.

In Northern Ireland the number of homeless people rose by 32% between 2012 and 20175.

Contextual data

  • Access to our own contextual database which pulls together public data on rough sleeper and statutory homeless figures. You can access this database here.
    • This contextual data will allow you to explore existing statistics on homelessness and rough sleeping and allow you to see if there has been an increase in your area and if your local council is recording homeless deaths. Check the notes in the ‘Read Me’ tab for the sources of this data and how these figures have been produced. Here’s what’s in the database:
      • Statutory homelessness decisions – these figures are a compilation of government statistics which show the number of people accepted as homeless by each local authority each year. We have calculated the % rise since 2012. Remember these are not solely people sleeping rough. The figure also includes those in temporary accommodation like hostels, B&Bs or those sofa surfing while homeless. Note, these are not yearly totals of all statutory homeless, it is a database of the yearly statutory homeless application decisions.
      • Rough Sleeping figures – these are estimates or street counts provided by local authorities on the number of people in their area sleeping rough.
      • https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Ot0UOCP1RKpIlq0s5fAVKeCYF9AhAWypsu7FklclwDQ/edit?usp=sharing

Quotes

The following are quotes you can use in your piece. You may also want to get comment from your MP or council leader.

Howard Sinclair, St Mungo’s Chief Executive, told the Bureau:

”These figures are nothing short of a national scandal. These deaths are premature and entirely preventable.

”The commitment, in the Government’s recent rough sleeping strategy, to ensure a formal review when someone dies while rough sleeping is crucial. In this way we will be able to identify what needs to be done, locally and nationally, to stop these tragedies. This week, we will be launching a report that sets out longterm solutions to rough sleeping to ensure everyone has a home for good and deaths on our streets become a thing of the past.”

Polly Neate CEO of Shelter told the Bureau:

“This important investigation lays bare the true brutality of our housing crisis. Rising levels of homelessness are a national disgrace, but it is utterly unforgivable that so many homeless people are dying unnoticed and unaccounted for.

“Unstable and expensive private renting, crippling welfare cuts and a severe lack of social housing have created this crisis – and at Shelter we see first-hand the suffering it causes – from families trapped in cramped and dingy B&Bs, to those forced to endure the dangers of sleeping rough.

“To prevent more people from having to experience the trauma of homelessness, the government must ensure housing benefit is enough to cover the cost of rents, and urgently ramp up its efforts to build many more social homes.”

Crisis Chief Executive Jon Sparkes told the Bureau:

“We are deeply saddened and shocked beyond belief to hear of the deaths of all these individuals. To think of just one person dying due to the consequences of poverty and homelessness is appalling, but to learn of the sheer scale of those who’ve lost their lives in the past year is nothing short of horrifying. This is a wake-up call to see homelessness as a national emergency.

“Behind these statistics are 449 unique human beings, ranging from teenagers to people in their 90s – a gardener, an astrophysicist, musicians, fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers. Not only will 449 families or significant others have to cope with their loss, they will have to face the injustice that their loved one was forced to live the last days of their life without the dignity of a decent roof over their head, and a basic safety net that might have prevented their death. No-one deserves this.

“We know that sleeping rough is dangerous, but this investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reminds us it’s deadly. Those sleeping on our streets are exposed to everything from sub-zero temperatures, to violence and abuse, and fatal illnesses. They are 17 times more likely to be a victim of violence, twice as likely to die from infections, and nine times more likely to commit suicide. What’s worse, these figures might even be an underestimate.

“The magnitude of this loss affects each and every one of us because it reflects on our society and on our system for letting it happen in the first place. Not only has it happened, but troublingly, it has happened unchecked. We must all take responsibility to hold society and our system to account, and ensure it doesn’t continue to happen across our country.

“To honour the memories of all those who’ve lost their lives to poverty and homelessness not just in this year, but in all preceding years, we must act now to bring about a positive change. We must insist that these deaths are officially investigated and recorded. The Safeguarding Adult Review (SAR) system, which is currently used to investigate the deaths of vulnerable adults, should be extended to include cases where a person has died whilst homeless and living on the streets. This will allow us to have a more accurate picture of the number of people who die on our streets, and will give the authorities, councils and homelessness services valuable information that could help them prevent the deaths of rough sleepers in the future. But ultimately, we must urge the Government to do what it takes to end rough sleeping – and all forms of homelessness – once and for all. We know it can be done, and in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, there is no excuse for this tragedy to carry on.”

Alex Bax, Chief Executive of Pathways told the Bureau:

“These difficult findings echo the words of homelessness clinicians: too many homeless people are dying early, in painful, tragic circumstances. Deaths on the street are only one part of the picture. Many homeless people also die in hospital and with the right broad response these deaths could be prevented.

The Royal College of Physicians advises that any hospital caring for more than 30 homeless patients each year should have a defined plan and a homelessness protocol. New duties under the Homelessness Reduction Act now ask hospitals to identify and refer all homeless patients for housing help. But at the moment many hospital systems aren’t even set up to identify homelessness as a problem.

In October last year Pathway led a coalition of homelessness charities asking the Secretary of State to instruct NHS Digital to agree a common national data standard, so homeless patients can be routinely identified and supported. Pathway has spent two years showing how this could be done. We hope the NHS will now move to implement this recommendation.”

An MHCLG spokesperson said:

“Every death of someone sleeping rough on our streets is one too many and we take this matter extremely seriously.

“We are investing £1.2bn to tackle all forms of homelessness, and have set out bold plans backed by £100m in funding to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and end it by 2027.

“We have committed to make sure that Safeguarding Adult Reviews, in the case of the death or serious harm of a person who sleeps rough, to ensure that lessons are learnt for services.”

MHCLG BACKGROUND

· The Homelessness Reduction Act, which is the most ambitious legislation in this area in decades, came into force this April.

· We are taking bold action through our Rough Sleeping Strategy which sets out our plans to end rough sleeping by 2027.

· We will use reviews to inform Government and local authorities with much more detail to inform improvements in local systems and services.

· We will work with the Local Government Association and councils so that by next winter, all local authorities will have updated their homelessness strategies to update them and rebadge them as homelessness and rough sleeping strategies.

· Safeguarding Adult Reviews will be conducted when a person who sleeps rough dies or is seriously harmed as a result of abuse or neglect, whether known or suspected, and there is concern that parter agencies could have worked more effectively to protect the adult.

How you can take part

  • Tell us about any cases we have missed
    • If you know of any cases where someone has died while sleeping rough or who is considered statutory homeless but in temporary accommodation, then please let us know by filling in our simple form.

Note: We are using homeless charity, Crisis’ definition of homelessness as including: people sleeping rough, those registered as statutory homeless by their local authority, those who are living long term as ‘hidden homeless’, e.g. sofa-surfing.

  • Tell their stories
    • Talk to homelessness charities in the area to see if they know of any deaths since 1 October 2017 to date.
    • Check whether the coroner’s office knows of any homeless deaths.
    • Ask local council homeless outreach teams if they are aware of any deaths.
    • Interview friends, families, community members and outreach workers.

Note: these are people not numbers, please do approach organisations with sensitivity, many of those your are calling may have lost good friends/people they really cared about. There is some guidance on reporting/inquiring about deaths from IPSO here and from the BBC here. If in doubt you can talk to Bureau reporter Maeve McClenaghan (maevemcclenaghan@tbij.com).

  • Partner with us

If your news outlet is interested in announcing a formal partnership on the project, here’s what you need to do:

    • Cite the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Suggested wording:

[Your publication] has partnered with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism on the project Dying Homeless – to investigate when, where and how people die homeless in the UK.

    • Point your readers to the Dying Homeless counting page where they can tell us about a homeless death – http://bit.ly/dyinghomeless.
    • If you’d like, you can use the Dying Homeless logo in your online or paper reporting. If you do, please credit: Andrew Garthwaite for Bureau Local. You can find the logo at the bottom of this document.

Additional resources (and inspiration!)

Government data broken down by local authority (this includes numbers of people placed in temporary accommodation by type of accommodation, e.g. hostels, B&Bs, etc.)

https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/live-tables-on-homelessness

St Mungo’s report: Dying on the Streets: The case for moving quickly to end rough sleeping

https://www.mungos.org/publication/dying/

Crisis: Homelessness Monitor 2018 https://www.crisis.org.uk/ending-homelessness/homelessness-knowledge-hub/homelessness-monitor/england/the-homelessness-monitor-england-2018

  • Inspiration

Some local reporters have been doing amazing work in this area. Here are some examples of their work and audio clips with their top tips on how they got the story.

    • Jen Williams, Manchester Evening News

https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/the-deaths-they-dont-count-15021204

https://soundcloud.com/user-425402640/jen-williams-tips-on-exploring-homeless-deaths

    • Nick Laviguer, Leeds Live

https://www.leeds-live.co.uk/news/leeds-news/official-review-deaths-five-leeds-14907261

https://soundcloud.com/user-425402640/nick-laviguer-tips-on-reporting-homeless-deaths

    • Michael Yong, Bristol Post

https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-news/homeless-people-died-bristol-list-1898971

https://soundcloud.com/user-425402640/michael-yong-tips-on-reporting-hom