Homeless deaths spiked by a more than a third in 2020

Homeless deaths spiked by a more than a third in 2020
22nd February 2021 Jessica Turtle

Memorial to those who have died homeless

We have updated our Dying Homeless memorial site to remember and honour the people who have died in 2020. You can visit the memorial here:

Dying Homeless (museumofhomelessness.org)

You can read an analysis of the findings in this report, correct as at 9th March 2021

Museum of Homelessness report of findings on homeless deaths in 2020

Research findings on the deaths of people who are homeless in 2020

Our research into the deaths of homeless people in 2020 which included more than 300 freedom of information requests also found:

  • Offer of hotel accommodation successful at preventing deaths from Covid-19
  • But fatalities rose 37% to 976 as people struggled to access services already stretched by pre-pandemic cuts
  • With someone homeless dying every 9 and half hours, campaigners call for national enquiry to reset government policy

New research by the Museum of Homelessness has revealed a frightening increase in the number of people dying while homeless – despite efforts to save lives in the pandemic.

How many people died in 2020 whilst homeless?

A 37% increase in homeless deaths in 2020

The Dying Homeless Project recorded 976 deaths across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland in 2020 – a 37% increase in the numbers reported in our 2019 study. The data was gathered through over 300 Freedom of Information Requests, local news sources, and a national network of organisations that contributed to the project. The figures include the deaths of people who were living on the streets, sofa surfing, and in emergency or temporary accommodation for people who are homeless.

The findings show that the Everyone In scheme met its primary goal of preventing people dying from Covid-19.  Less than 3% of recorded causes of death were directly attributed to the disease – a significant achievement given the overall death toll from the pandemic.

Why are people dying whilst homeless?

However, the provision of emergency hotel accommodation couldn’t compensate for the cuts to welfare and mental health, addiction and housing services made before the pandemic – or the disruption caused by it.  Of the cases in which we have confirmed details of the cause of death, 36% were related to drug and alcohol use, 15% died from suicide.

Many local authorities were unable to organise suitable longer-term accommodation once the emergency program ended. For example, in Westminster 162 out of the 266 people brought in through the scheme either returned to the streets, remained in the hotel / emergency accommodation or were supported out of the borough. In contrast, Haringey council has adopted a much more ambitious approach to providing accommodation that gives people the security and support needed to improve their health after street homelessness. Haringey is currently looking to develop 37 new modular homes in South Tottenham to help achieve this.

Our findings show that the government needs to significantly increase support for this type of long-term investment in council housing and support services. But the £700 million package announced by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government appears to include just £109 million of new funds. It isn’t enough to make up the £1 billion funding shortfall identified by homelessness organisations before the pandemic struck in 2019 and leaves spending well below 2010 levels when homelessness was less than half of what it is today.

Jess Turtle, co-founder of MoH said: “A hotel or hostel room is no substitute for a safe home. The government touts Everyone In as a runaway success. But it didn’t stop a staggering increase in the number of people dying while homeless– despite the best efforts of our colleagues around the country who worked 24 hours a day on emergency response.

These heart-breaking findings demonstrate how the pandemic hit a system already cut to the bone from 10 years of austerity and the scale of the challenge we face to recover. The government needs to stop repackaging old funding commitments as new support and do more to stop this terrible loss of life.”

Northern Ireland reported 11% of total deaths. However, the figures we’ve gathered suggests the total number of fatalities fell year on year.The total number of deaths reported is likely to be higher than our figures suggest as several local authorities did not respond to our FOI requests.  For example, we have no data for Birmingham, the UK’s second largest city, or a third of London boroughs.

Calls for change – a National Enquiry into homeless deaths is needed

In the last few months, Museum of Homelessness has brought together people from across the UK to form a new coalition to push for change. The Dying Homeless Project coalition includes people affected by homelessness, experts in homelessness healthcare, homeless charities, grassroots activists, academics, journalists, artists and campaigners. After years of rising numbers of people dying whilst homeless, the coalition is calling for a National Confidential Enquiry into homeless deaths to make the critical changes needed to save lives.

Co-founder Matt Turtle said: “The evidence has been building for years. Two years ago, the Government agreed to begin recording statistics for the first time but little is being done with the findings. We are asking, how are lessons being learned? We believe that far more needs to be done at a local and national level to change things. A National Confidential Enquiry would help ensure Government makes the long-term commitment needed.”

Join us to remember those who died homeless in 2020

Campaigners will light candles on Tuesday 23rd February to remember all those who died whilst homeless in 2020. We are calling for all affected to do the same and to share on social media as we cannot gather in person. Please join us in paying our respects.

The posts will read:

“We remember all those who died whilst homeless in 2020, a person every 9 & a half hours. Each one a person with hopes and dreams.

The Dying Homeless Coalition calls for a National Confidential Enquiry into homeless deaths.

Enough is enough. #MakeThemCount


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