Sixteen homeless people are known to have died with coronavirus (Covid-19) in England during the first three months of the lockdown. The deaths were registered between 26 March and 26 June, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed.
But ONS has cautioned that the figure may be an underestimate of the true number of homeless people who have died with the virus. It defined homeless as people who were sleeping rough, using homeless shelters and direct access hostels, or housed in emergency accommodation due to the pandemic at or around the time of death.
The 16 death certificates mentioned coronavirus either as an underlying cause or a contributory factor.
Breakdown of statistics
Of the homeless people identified, the majority were men, six lived in London and three in the North West. No deaths of homeless people in Wales were identified.
The average age of death was 58 for the homeless men – considerably lower than the average age at death involving coronavirus for men in the general population, at 79. Details of the homeless women who died were not given in order to prevent them from being identified, due to the low numbers.
The identified numbers are similar to the average number of homeless people whose deaths involved alcohol or suicide per quarter from 2014-2018.
Official estimates of homeless deaths are published with a considerable lag, as many deaths of homeless people are investigated by a coroner. This is not a requirement for deaths involving coronavirus, enabling the data on homeless deaths involving the virus to be reported faster.
“We need emergency homelessness legislation”
Experts searched coronavirus death registration data for indications that a person was homeless when they died, including a reported residence or place of death such as a known homeless shelter or “no fixed abode”. They included hotels known to be accommodating homeless people as part of the government’s drive to get thousands of rough sleepers into safe accommodation during the pandemic. But private rentals and student accommodation were not included.
In addition, not all local authorities in England were able to provide details of temporary accommodation within the requested timescale. Therefore, not every address used to house homeless people will have been identified.
Due to these factors, it is “unlikely that every death will be identified”, the ONS said. Jon Sparkes, chief executive of the charity Crisis, said:
When the outbreak started, it was a stark reminder of the risk people who are homeless face from the virus – with no access to a place to self-isolate nor, in some cases, basic sanitation.
Efforts to quickly move rough sleepers and those in night shelters into safe accommodation “undoubtedly saved lives”, he said, adding:
We must now build on this.
We need emergency homelessness legislation to guarantee everyone experiencing homelessness has the security of a safe and settled home. Without this, people risk being forced back on our streets or into crowded shelters, with the danger posed by the virus still very real.
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