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Housing

Drug deaths fall among Scotland’s homeless population for the first time

An estimated 250 people died while experiencing homeless last year – around the same as in 2020. The number of drug-related deaths fell but still accounted for half the figures

The number of people experiencing homelessness dying from drug misuse has fallen for the first time in Scotland.

An estimated 250 people died without a stable home in the country in 2021 – around the same level as in 2020.

Drug misuse continued to play a role in more than half the deaths but fell for the first time since the National Records of Scotland started counting homeless deaths in 2017. NRS’s head of vital events Julie Ramsay said deaths related to drug misuse fell from 151 to 127 between 2020 and 2021.

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“No one should accept these figures as normal. Every single one of these deaths represents a tragedy and an injustice. Every one of these people were part of our communities and they will be missed,” said Matt Downie, chief executive of Crisis.

“This can’t be allowed to keep happening. We must prevent homelessness from happening in the first place, and provide support for people who have lost their home, to help them end their homelessness.

“We know what causes homelessness, and we know how to end it. If we work together we can do that. But we don’t have a moment to waste.”

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Drug deaths have been a wider problem in Scotland in recent years and 2021 saw the second-highest number of drugs deaths ever recorded among the wider population in the country.

Suicide accounted for just under 10 per cent of deaths while alcohol was a specific underlying cause in 7 per cent of cases. Only two of the deaths had Covid-19 recorded as an underlying cause.

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The majority of homeless deaths were recorded in Midlothian, Glasgow City and the City of Edinburgh while outside of the two big cities in the Outer Hebrides, Orkney Islands, Perth and Kinross, and Stirling Council areas there were no deaths recorded. 

Most of the people who died were male – just over 80 per cent – while 60 per cent were aged over 45.

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“A horrendous number of lives lost whilst experiencing the misery and harms of homelessness,” said Lorraine McGrath, chief executive of Simon Community Scotland.

“The experience itself brings huge health impacts and too often leads to premature deaths. Scotland can and must do better to wrap more protection around people who are at risk and more intensive and rapid health interventions during anyone’s experience of living in emergency and temporary accommodation for long periods of time.”

The NRS figures use a similar methodology to the Office for National Statistics’ official count in England.

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Statisticians search death registration records to find evidence that people died while homeless and use modelling to estimate the likely number of additional deaths not picked up in searches.

That method differs from the Museum of Homelessness’s (MOH) approach in its official Dying Homeless count.

MOH uses freedom of information requests and submissions from members of the public to produce its UK-wide annual count.

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