The UK Tried to Help Homeless People During the Pandemic. Then Deaths Rose By a Third.

The Museum of Homelessness recorded almost 1,000 homelessness deaths in 2020, despite schemes like the “Everyone In” project. 
February 22, 2021, 1:11pm
homelessness deaths 2020 uk
Photo: SOPA Images / Contributor

Homelessness deaths rose by just over a third in 2020, new stats from the Museum of Homelessness (MoH) reveal. The data, collected as part of The Dying Homeless Project, registered 976 homelessness deaths in 2020, an increase of 37 percent from the previous year. 

In order to collect the data, the Museum of Homelessness submitted over 300 Freedom of Information requests and used local news sources to collect data on homeless mortality.

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The project acknowledges the role of the Everyone In scheme – which sought to place vulnerable homeless people in hotels across the UK at the beginning of the pandemic – in preventing COVID deaths amongst the homeless community. According to MoH’s data, coronavirus only accounted for 3 percent of recorded homelessness deaths.

However, two months after the launch of the Everything In project, the government quietly rolled back the scheme. Research shows that many people who were placed in hotels weren’t provided with adequate follow up housing, sometimes being placed in hostels with “shocking” standards, according to one report from King’s College London.

The Dying Homeless Project concludes that drastic cuts to welfare services, as well as a lack of suitable housing, contributed to the high number of deaths in 2020, despite some provisions initially being provided at the start of the pandemic.

The study found that 36 percent of homelessness deaths in 2020 were drug or alcohol-related, and 15 percent died by suicide. 

Jess Turtle, co-founder of MoH, said: “A hotel or hostel room is no substitute for a safe home. The government touts Everyone In as a runaway success. But it didn’t stop a staggering increase in the number of people dying while homeless – despite the best efforts of our colleagues around the country who worked 24 hours a day on emergency response.”

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“These heart-breaking findings demonstrate how the pandemic hit a system already cut to the bone from ten years of austerity, and the scale of the challenge we face to recover,” she continued. “The government needs to stop repackaging old funding commitments as new support and do more to stop this terrible loss of life.”

In December, the government announced a £700 million package for 2021 to help homeless people, which marks an additional £109 million from previous funding commitments. The Dying Homelessness Project has criticised this funding injection as inadequate in light of a £1 billion funding shortfall from 2019 identified by homelessness charities. 

A representative from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government told VICE World News: “We agree a safe home for all is vital – that’s why we’re providing over £700 million this year and £750 million next year to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, including delivering 3,300 long-term homes this year.

“The latest figures show that our ongoing Everyone In initiative had housed 33,000 people, supporting 23,000 into settled accommodation or with move on support – and it will continue to protect thousands of lives.”

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “A lot of hard work went into getting thousands of people off the streets at the start of the pandemic. But more become homeless every day because there aren’t enough homes they can actually afford to live in.

“Pre-pandemic, there were over a million households on the social housing waiting list. As we look towards recovery, ending the housing crisis must be a priority. Now is the time to challenge the status quo and actually build the social homes we need to give everyone the security of a safe home. Or we risk yet more homelessness and more death as the legacy of COVID-19.”