Rise in deaths among homeless people in Wales
The number of homeless people dying in Wales rose to 76 in 2022, up from 60 the previous year.
Campaigners called for an intensification of efforts to provide homes for the homeless, and for everyone to have a statutory right to adequate housing.
Across the UK as a whole, 1,313 homeless people died in 2022, bringing the total to more than 4,000 since 2019.
The 2022 figure is 85% higher than the total number of deaths in 2019.
On average, a homeless person in the UK dies every six and a half hours.
Fatalities increased more than 20% in both Wales and England in comparison with 2021, while in Scotland and Northern Ireland the totals went down.
In Wales, 22 of last year’s deaths were in Cardiff and 16 in Swansea.
The latest annual report on homeless mortality from the London-based charity Museum of Homelessness also showed that too many people were dying too young, with 85% under the age of 65.
Unregulated temporary accommodation
According to the report, a reliance on dangerous unregulated “exempt” temporary accommodation was contributing to deaths alongside a broken system for mental health and addiction support.
The mortality statistics include people sleeping rough as well as those placed in emergency accommodation and other insecure settings. Each fatality was verified by a freedom of information request, a coroner’s report, a charity or a family member.
Where the researchers compiling the report knew of the person’s situation, 83% of the deaths in 2022 took place after they were placed in some form of homelessness accommodation rather than rough sleeping.
For the first time, the Museum of Homelessness specifically asked about deaths in exempt accommodation and found that only 12 local authorities held such information.
Exempt accommodation is defined as a type of supported housing that is exempt from usual housing benefit limits because of the added support that is provided for vulnerable people.
There have been growing concerns about the quality of accommodation and support.
In 2021, the housing charity Crisis said that “due to a lack of meaningful oversight and regulation, many exempt providers are abusing the system for financial gain, providing little or no support while leaving tenants in poorly managed and dangerous accommodation”.
Of the 12 local authorities that provided data to the researchers, Manchester reported a staggering 109 deaths in exempt accommodation, across 98 properties. This compared to 21 deaths amongst the rest of the homeless population in Manchester.
More people died in exempt accommodation in Manchester than was recorded in the whole of Wales.
Museum of Homelessness co-director Matt Turtle said: “The fact that so many people continue to die in unregulated, taxpayer funded accommodation run by rogue landlords is a disgrace.”
In cases where the cause of death is known, 36% related to drugs and alcohol and 10% died by suicide.
The report states: “This is a broadly similar picture to 2021 that illustrates how too many people cannot access the help they need. Cuts to services since 2010 have led to fatal slowness and conditionality in drug and alcohol services, with people having to wait years to get help.”
Mr Turtle added, “The UK Government’s misguided approach to homelessness and housing has fatal consequences. A toxic cocktail of cuts, criminalisation and crackdowns is making life even harder for the UK’s most vulnerable people.
“Just tinkering around the edges won’t fix the damage of the last 12 years. Far stronger policy and investment are needed to deal with the appalling loss of life.
“With a heavy heart we expect to report more of the same in 2024, but with our colleagues we will continue to do what we can to save lives.”
Co-director Jess Turtle said: “Wales is in the midst of a desperate housing crisis with all forms of homelessness on the rise and perhaps most appallingly significant rates of child homelessness.
“Our findings show that the system is letting the most vulnerable Welsh citizens down, with fatal results.
“We urge the Welsh Government to act to prevent further loss of life and we support the call from Welsh campaigners for the right to adequate housing in Wales – currently the focus of a Senedd inquiry – to be enshrined in law.”
Cardiff-based housing consultant Tamsin Stirling said: “Some of the responsibility for dealing with homelessness-related issues in Wales rests with the UK Government and some with the Welsh Government.
“The Welsh Government has been rolling out a ‘Housing First’ approach, originally developed in countries including Finland, where the first priority is to provide homeless people with accommodation and then afterwards with the support they need.
“It’s helped some people, but there have been failures. The tendency is for accommodation to be provided in proximity to other homeless people, but not everyone is happy with that.”
The Welsh Government has a Strategy for Ending and Preventing Homelessness, which states: “Currently much of the focus of activity in the homelessness field is at the acute end, and if we are to achieve our vision, then our approach has to both support those currently homeless into accommodation, while also significantly reducing the flow of individuals and families falling into homelessness by investing more in primary, secondary and tertiary prevention.
“Our goals are therefore as follows: Immediate – supporting those currently in crisis; Short / medium term – shifting the focus to true prevention and rapid rehousing; Long term – maintaining a system in which homelessness is rare, brief and non-recurrent.”
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