‘This is nothing short of a national scandal. These deaths are premature and entirely preventable’
A homeless person dies every two weeks in London, figures have revealed, prompting urgent calls for the government to carry out a review into rough sleeper deaths and improve mental health support.
A survey of outreach services by charity St Mungo’s reveals 158 rough sleepers died in the capital between 2010 and 2017 – a figure campaigners have branded “nothing short of a national scandal”.
Analysis of data shows a steep increase in the proportion of people dying who have mental health issues, which rose from 29 per cent in 2010 to 80 per cent in 2017. The outreach survey also shows 70 per cent said access to mental health services had become harder over the last five years.
It comes after the number of people sleeping rough in England hit a record-high earlier this year – after a 73 per cent increase over the last three years.
Petra Salva, director of rough sleepers at St Mungo’s, told The Independent she believed the figures were an underestimation, with some being “missed altogether” because the government does not record homeless death statistics at a national level and local authorities are not required to record them.
“Anecdotally, our team knows there is an increased risk in people dying when they sleep rough. Often when I come into work I am told – it happened today – of another death. And we know that a lot of them are preventable,” she added.
“We know that people with mental health needs – whether diagnosed or undiagnosed – are likely to end up sleeping rough for longer – and that’s mainly because the help isn’t fast enough. The truth is that there’s not enough help out there.
“We’ve definitely seen a correlation between cuts to mental health services and the rise in homeless deaths. We’re not getting to people quickly enough – some people are being missed altogether. There’s a misconception that it’s a lifestyle choice, and that people choose to live like this.”
A report published by the charity today shows 64 per cent of outreach services said access to emergency accommodation for people sleeping rough had got harder compared to five years ago.
Seven in 10 meanwhile said access to mental health services for people sleeping rough had got harder compared to five years ago.