How many times have you seen homeless people around the streets of Southampton – huddled in doorways, sleeping in the streets, holding signs outside the entrance of West Quay? How many times do you give them a second thought after you walk past; enough to consider the fact that over 40 homeless people have died in Southampton in the past six years?
A recent report from Crisis, Great Britain’s national homelessness charity, concluded that more than 700 homeless people died in the last year alone, and this report was confirmed by figures from the Office of National Statistics, which discovered that 41 of those deaths occurred in Southampton between 2013 and 2018.
While it may sound reassuring that Southampton saw only 41 deaths out of those 700, especially given that those deaths were spread across the past six years, it’s also a sobering reminder that Southampton can do better. Speaking out in a recent address on the state of homelessness in the UK, a government spokesman from Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) remarked:
Every single death on our streets is one too many and these statistics are a sombre reminder that there is still much more to do to tackle homelessness and end rough sleeping for good.
Additional investigations from Crisis have confirmed that drugs are the leading cause of death among the homeless at this time, with opiates cited as the most common substance on death certificates of rough sleepers in 2018. Addressing the spike in drug-related deaths, Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes affirmed:
It is heart-breaking that hundreds of people were forced to spend the last days of their lives without the dignity of a secure home. This is now the second year running where we have known the true scale of the human cost of homelessness, yet still the lessons from these tragic deaths go unlearnt.
However, it can be hoped that this increased awareness will bring about positive change. Another MHCLG spokesman declared:
Drugs can devastate lives, ruin families and damage communities, which is why we are undertaking a comprehensive review which will help protect the most vulnerable – including homeless individuals – from the harms that drugs cause and give them a chance to recover and turn their lives around.
It has also been announced that the government is investing £1.2 billion to tackle homelessness and its causes.