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New figures reveal 'tragedy' of homeless deaths in Scotland

The figures include those in temporary accommodation and rough sleeping | Alamy

New figures reveal 'tragedy' of homeless deaths in Scotland

At least 244 people died while homeless in Scotland last year, official figures show.

Data from National Records of Scotland (NRS) reveals a small reduction in the number of people who died while in temporary accommodation or sleeping rough.

However, the 244 total remains higher than in 2017, when the data was first collected.

And statisticians say the figure may be higher because of the difficulties in identifying people who were homeless at the time of death.

Almost half (49 per cent) of those who died were less than 45 years old.

Housing minister Paul McLennan said: "Every single one of these deaths is one too many and I extend my sincerest condolences to all those affected.

"We know that people who have experience of homelessness are much more likely to have poor physical and mental health than the general population. 

"Scotland has the strongest rights in the UK for people experiencing homelessness but we care committed to ensuring that no one need become homeless in the first place."

Almost three quarters (73 per cent) of those who died were male. Of this group, almost half were under 44 years old.

For women, the proportion in this age group was higher at 63 per cent and the total number of deaths has reduced to levels seen in previous years.

At 36 per cent, drug misuse remains the largest single cause of death for people experiencing homelessness.

However, the total number of drugs deaths for people who died while homeless fell from 127 to 89, year on year.

Senior NRS statistician Beth Watson said the total reduction in deaths is "not statistically significant", explaining: "Our figures go back to 21017 when there were 164 deaths. While the year-on-year change is small, the number is still significantly higher than it was five years ago."

Conservative shadow cabinet secretary for housing Miles Briggs called the figures "a damning verdict on the SNP government's failure to get a grip on this problem" and called on ministers to back the Tories' Right to Recovery Bill.

Matt Downie, chief executive of housing charity Crisis, said: "These figures are a national disgrace, but they are not at all surprising. Anyone familiar with the nature of homelessness knows the damage it does to people's health. It exposes them to physical danger, and it damages their mental health.

"But the truth is that, as more people are forced into the homelessness system, more people will die homeless. And with the system now straining beyond local authorities' ability to cope, we are seeing more people forced to sleep on the street, more families trapped for long periods in accommodation that’s totally unsuitable, and more people being told there is simply nowhere for them to go.

"We urgently need the Scottish Government to press on with plans to prevent homelessness from happening in the first place. New duties to prevent homelessness, if properly resourced, could allow people to get help before they reach crisis point, to help them avoid being forced from their homes."

McLennan said £100m had been committed to the multi-year Ending Homelessness Together Fund, adding: "One focus of the national mission to reduce drug deaths, backed by £250m investment over the life of the parliament, is to strengthen partnerships between health and other services to improve outcomes for people who use drugs and have multiple needs, such as experiencing homelessness. We are also prioritising homelessness as part of our suicide prevention strategy."

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