Exactly a year ago, the Salford Star questioned whether there was a cover up on releasing the number of homeless people who had died on the streets, after a lady was convinced she saw a man die in a doorway and the authorities just wouldn't give out any information (see here).
Now, at last, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has released the first official count of homeless deaths – which show an estimated fifty homeless people died last year in Greater Manchester, with 597 nationally.
Men made up 84 per cent of the deaths, with an average age of 44 years, while it was 42 years for women, much lower than the 76 years and 81 years respectively for the general population.
Drug poisoning was the cause of death for 190 homeless people (32 per cent), an increase of 51 per cent in five years. Other causes included suicide and liver disease.
The figures were arrived at by two counts - crowdsourcing information from a network of journalists, charities and homelessness organisations, and the ONS analysing death registrations looking for clues, such as addresses of homeless shelters.
Paul Barlow, Director of Independent Together, which provides leaving care services for 16-25 year-olds, says the number of homeless deaths represents a "humanitarian crisis...
"The number of deaths is so shockingly high because of the sheer number of rough sleepers on our streets" he explains "There are undoubtedly more rough sleepers on the region's streets than the official figures suggest. In the official statistics, someone who has been on the streets for virtually the whole year but finds a bed for one night does not count as a rough sleeper. Disguising the figures does not help the problem at root cause."
Even Greater Manchester Combined Authority is now stating there are twice as many rough sleepers across Greater Manchester than the official numbers indicate...at least five hundred rough sleepers on the region's streets every night.
In recent weeks, Paul Barlow has warned that more teenagers face ending up on the streets after Government delays to restore housing benefit for people aged 18 to 21. He also believes rising residential rents coupled with high demand is putting a strain on local government in the fight against homelessness.
"In Manchester, we are already seeing an uplift in rental prices and demand is very high" he says "Rising rents are putting the whole system under pressure. In our experience, private owners are also reluctant to let to tenants without references from employers or previous landlords, or to benefit claimants.
"This is where a company like ours needs to act as an intermediary, matching people in need of a roof over their heads with the right kind of accommodation, while providing landlords with the necessary assurances around payments and looking after their properties" he adds "At Independent Together we are working to ease the pressure by housing and integrating young adults back into society."
Meanwhile, the occupation of an old doctor's surgery in Eccles is keeping a roof over homeless people's heads this Christmas – see previous Salford Star article for full details – click here