Sixteen homeless people are known to have died with coronavirus in England during the first three months of the lockdown, analysis has found.
The deaths of 16 homeless people involving coronavirus were registered between March 26 and June 26, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed.
But it cautioned that the figure may be an underestimate of the true number of homeless people who have died with the virus.
The ONS defined homeless as people who were sleeping rough, using homeless shelters and direct access hostels, or housed in emergency accommodation due to the pandemic at or around the time of death.
The 16 death certificates mentioned Covid-19 either as an underlying cause or a contributory factor.
Of the homeless people identified, the majority were men, six lived in London and three in the North West.
No deaths of homeless people in Wales were identified.
The average age of death was 58 for the homeless men – considerably lower than the average age at death involving Covid-19 for men in the general population, at 79.
Details of the homeless women who died were not given to prevent people from being identified due to the low numbers.
The identified numbers are similar to the average number of homeless people whose deaths involved alcohol or suicide per quarter from 2014-2018.
Official estimates of homeless deaths are published with a considerable lag, as many deaths of homeless people are investigated by a coroner.
This is not a requirement for deaths involving Covid-19, enabling the data on homeless deaths involving the virus to be reported faster.
Experts searched Covid-19 death registration data for indications that a person was homeless when they died, including a reported residence or place of death such as a known homeless shelter or “no fixed abode”.
They included hotels known to be accommodating homeless people as part of the Government’s drive to get thousands of rough sleepers into safe accommodation during the pandemic.
But private rentals and student accommodation were not included.
In addition, not all local authorities in England were able to provide details of temporary accommodation within the requested timescale, so not every address used to house homeless people will have been identified.
Due to these factors, it is “unlikely that every death will be identified”, the ONS said.
Jon Sparkes, Crisis chief executive, said: “When the outbreak started, it was a stark reminder of the risk people who are homeless face from the virus – with no access to a place to self-isolate nor, in some cases, basic sanitation.”
Efforts to quickly move rough sleepers and those in night shelters into safe accommodation “undoubtedly saved lives”, he said, adding: “We must now build on this.
“We need emergency homelessness legislation to guarantee everyone experiencing homelessness has the security of a safe and settled home. Without this, people risk being forced back on our streets or into crowded shelters, with the danger posed by the virus still very real.”
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, added: “Nobody should be at risk of catching Covid-19 on the street, where it’s hard to follow even basic public health guidance such as regularly washing hands.
“Whilst this dangerous virus is still in circulation, the Government must make it clear to all councils that they must accommodate anybody facing the streets as the pandemic continues.
“And as we start to consider what a post-Covid society will look like one thing is for sure: we must end homelessness for good.”
Dr Briony Hudson, senior research manager at the end of life charity Marie Curie, said: “As the true figure of deaths amongst homeless people is likely to be under-estimated, we are concerned that as funding for the homeless hotels comes to an end, thousands of homeless people living with advanced ill health will once again return to the margins of our society and miss out on the care and support they desperately need.”
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