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14 December 2020

We Are With You calls for an increase of Housing First schemes in response to new statistics showing homeless deaths are at record levels

The ONS today released annual statistics showing deaths of people affected by homelessness for the calendar year of 2019. 

The topline figures from the data are as follows: 

  • There were an estimated 778 deaths of homeless people in England and Wales registered in 2019, an increase of 7.2% from 2018 when there were 726 estimated deaths. This is the highest number of estimated deaths since the time series began in 2013. 
  • Almost two in five deaths of homeless people were related to drug poisoning in 2019 (289 estimated deaths; 37.1% of the total number); the number of deaths from this cause has decreased by 1.7% compared with 2018, but is still 52.1% higher than 2017.
  • Suicides among homeless people increased by 30.2% in one year, from 86 estimated deaths in 2018 (11.8% of the total number), to 112 estimated deaths in 2019 (14.4% of the total number).
  • Among homeless people, the mean age at death was 45.9 years for males and 43.4 years for females in 2019; in the general population of England and Wales, the mean age at death was 76.1 years for men and 80.9 years for women.

In response to the above statistics, drug, alcohol and mental health charity We Are With You is calling on the government to increase Housing First schemes to reduce homelessness and homeless deaths in England. 

Robin Pollard, Policy and Public Affairs Manager at We Are With You, said: 

“This is a really sad day. Our thoughts are with the people who continue to be affected by these deaths. 

“Homelessness and deaths due to drug use have risen side by side in recent years. But the success of the government’s ‘everyone in’ policy in response to the first national lockdown showed that when the political will is there, homelessness can be solved. The government must now build on this momentum by increasing Housing First schemes in England. 

“Talk to any Recovery Worker and they will tell you that a stable home is key to helping people address their drug use. But too often homeless people who use drugs are denied accommodation. Housing First gives people affected by homelessness unconditional, stable housing straight away, alongside intensive support to maintain it, giving them a platform to address other issues in their life such as drug use and mental health issues. 

“Each person is different, with different needs and goals. Housing First recognises this. Housing First schemes personalise support to help people leave homelessness behind. It adapts a whole person approach, rather than treating people’s issues in isolation. In Finland, where Housing First is national government policy, rough sleeping has all but been eradicated while it is the only European country where homelessness overall is decreasing. Meanwhile, multiple studies have shown Housing First is more cost effective in the long-term as it reduces homeless people’s use of emergency services. 

“The events of this year have shown that homelessness is not inevitable. The evidence is there of what works, it’s time for the government to build on their success and put it into practice.”

What is Housing First?

Housing First is a housing and support approach that positions housing as a right rather than something that must be earned. It focuses on the people most entrenched within homelessness, for whom other interventions have repeatedly proved ineffective. Often these people have multiple complex needs including mental health issues and drug/alcohol issues. 

In Housing First people are given their own unconditional housing and wrap around intensive, personalised support to help manage their tenancy and address other issues in their life. Housing First workers typically have very small case loads, around six people at any one time, allowing them to give intense, personalised support. There is also no time limit on the support. 

Housing First is also a harm reduction intervention. Beneficiaries of Housing First do not have to be abstinent, unlike in many hostel accommodations, and Housing First workers provide clients with fresh equipment and harm reduction advice.