Charities have called on the Government to take people off the streets as it was revealed how many rough sleepers who have died in the pandemic so far.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) released data which showed 16 people identified as homeless had died with coronavirus in England and Wales, reports the Metro. The data added deaths of unidentified homeless people with the disease had not been included, and suggested the figure may be an underestimate of the true number. Charities have stressed concern over these figures.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “The death of every homeless person from Covid-19 is a tragedy. We know that street homeless people, even at a young age, are more likely to have underlying health conditions. This, along with things like a lack of good nourishment and sleep, can weaken their immune systems. They are among our most vulnerable citizens.”
“Nobody should be at risk of catching Covid-19 on the street, where it’s hard to follow even basic public health guidance such as regularly washing hands. Whilst this dangerous virus is still in circulation, the government must make it clear to all councils that they must accommodate anybody facing the streets as the pandemic continues. And as we start to consider what a post-Covid society will look like one thing is for sure: we must end homelessness for good.”
All 16 deaths were recorded in England and none in Wales. The statistics included figures up to June 26. The majority of the victims were men and the average age of death for men was 58 years. London and the northwest were the regions with the highest numbers of identified deaths involving Covid-19.
ONS analysis says a reasonable estimate of identified homeless deaths from all causes in a calendar quarter would be around 135, based on the latest statistics from 2018. It also suggests the 16 deaths involving Covid-19 of people who were homeless are similar in scale to the quarterly averages over the five-year period from 2014 to 2018 of homeless deaths from alcohol-specific causes or suicide.
Homeless housing charity St Mungo’s urged the ONS to further explore the other causes of deaths on the streets. Beatrice Orchard, head of policy, campaigns and research at St Mungo’s, said: “Yesterday’s statistics show that 16 homeless people in England and Wales have tragically died after contracting coronavirus. Our sympathies are with those people’s family and friends.”
“We know homeless people die, on average, 30 years younger than someone who is not homeless. St Mungo’s staff, alongside other charities and local authorities, are making a tremendous effort to prevent more deaths and ensure people are supported with their physical and mental health at this time. We would also urge the ONS to look, as quickly as possible, at the other causes of death among homeless people during the ongoing health crisis.
The statistics come after the Government announced an extra £105 million of funding at the end of June to provide interim housing for rough sleepers. This is on top of a £3.2 million emergency support package for the homeless implemented at the start of the pandemic. Housing secretary Robert Jenrick said: “In recent months, I have seen a huge effort across the country to keep almost 15,000 vulnerable people off the streets. This has been vital to ensure their safety during the peak of the pandemic and has changed the lives of thousands for the better.”
“The additional funding announced today will allow us to continue to support these individuals – giving them access to the accommodation and support they need now while we continue with plans to deliver thousands of long-term homes in the coming months. Together, this takes the funding provided by government for vulnerable rough sleepers and those at risk of becoming homeless to over half a billion this year – an unprecedented commitment as we move towards ending rough sleeping for good.”
But on Monday a group of 40 homeless and migrant organisations wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister calling for the Government to urgently introduce emergency homelessness legislation to protect people facing homelessness during the pandemic. It said: “Last week’s announcement of an additional £105 million of funding will certainly help councils continue to provide temporary accommodation to people experiencing homelessness. However, as a sector, we are concerned that money alone won’t provide a guarantee of safe and secure accommodation for everyone who needs it.: “Despite councils’ best efforts, the support in place to get people into accommodation has been patchy and inconsistent because of the current legal barriers. As we move forward, this risks a piecemeal, disjointed approach that particularly disadvantages people who are often locked out of support, including those with no recourse to public funds due to their immigration status.”
“This situation is made all the more urgent by the fact communal shelters will not be able to re-open safely while coronavirus still poses a risk, and as the winter approaches there must continue to be a safe route off the street for everyone. We are proposing, as one solution, emergency homelessness legislation to be put in place to guarantee everyone experiencing homelessness has the security of a safe and settled home throughout the pandemic. This will ensure that when we say “everyone in”, we truly mean everyone, and deliver on the Government’s commitment to end rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament.”