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‘Housing is a matter of life and death’ – says Director of Shelter Scotland as homeless deaths increased to 216 in 2019

The number of people who died in Scotland while homeless rose to more than 200 in 2019, according to new figures.

The number of people who died in Scotland while homeless rose to 216 in 2019, according to new figures.
The number of people who died in Scotland while homeless rose to 216 in 2019, according to new figures.

Experimental statistics published by National Records of Scotland (NRS) estimate that 216 people died while homeless in 2019, an increase of 11 per cent on the estimate of 195 in 2018.

73 per cent of the deaths recorded were males with an average age of 43, while the other 27 per cent were female with an average age of 39.

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More than half of the deaths recorded, 54 per cent, 117 deaths, were drug related according to the report.

Andrew Horne, Director in Scotland for drug alcohol and mental health charity, We Are With You, said: “Homeless people who use drugs are often vilified, but behind the numbers are stories of pain and resilience, of brave people doing their best to survive despite being dealt a difficult hand.

“We warmly welcomed the Scottish Government’s recent announcement of additional funding to reduce drug related deaths, with the level of investment over a five year period showing they are serious about reducing the shocking numbers.

“But these figures show that problematic drug use is often a reaction to people’s surroundings. The instability and uncertainty of not having a stable home makes it very hard for someone to address the broader issues behind their drug use.”

This report stated that Inverclyde and South Ayrshire had the highest rates of homeless deaths per million population aged 15 to 74, with a rate of 213.2 and 120.3 in 2019.

NRS said the Western Isles also had a high rate, 191.4, but that as this was based on a small number of identified deaths the result should be treated with caution.

Alison Watson, Director of Shelter Scotland, said in response to the new data: “The rising number of people dying at an ever younger age while experiencing homelessness is shocking.

“Housing is a matter of life and death. These deaths fall in the long shadow cast by the shortage of social housing.

“While not often a direct cause of death, being denied the security of a safe and affordable social home adds to the instability many need to rebuild their lives. It creates new health problems and exacerbates those that already exist.”

Scotland had the highest rate of homeless deaths in 2019, with a rate of 52.2 per million population aged 15-74 compared to 18.0 in England and 14.3 in Wales.

Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said that ending homelessness is a priority for the Scottish Government.

He said: “Each one of these deaths is a tragedy, representing some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

“While this report is based on experimental statistics, its findings will help the Scottish Government to further understand the many issues affecting the most vulnerable in our society as we redouble our efforts to eradicate homelessness.”

Mr Stewart said the Scottish Government is investing £32.5 million of its £50 million Ending Homelessness Together fund to help local authorities prioritise settled accommodation for all, while its Winter Plan for Social Protection fund, announced in November last year, added another £5 million to accelerate this work.

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The Scotsman

The Scotsman is a Scottish compact newspaper and daily news website headquartered in Edinburgh. First established as a radical political paper in 1817, it began daily publication in 1855 and remained a broadsheet until August 2004. Its parent company, JPIMedia, also publishes the Edinburgh Evening News.

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