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'We went to their funerals': Homeless deaths on the rise

PUBLISHED: 09:21 03 October 2019 | UPDATED: 09:21 03 October 2019

The number of people dying while homeless is at its highest in the East of England since records began in 2013 Picture: THINKSTOCK

The number of people dying while homeless is at its highest in the East of England since records began in 2013 Picture: THINKSTOCK

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Homeless deaths are rising in Suffolk and north Essex, with 28 people dying in the last five years.

The figures, released today by the Office for National Statistics, show that the number of people dying while homeless is at its highest in the East of England since 2013 - a 55% increase from 27 people to 42.

Two people died homeless in Colchester in 2018, two people that Colchester Emergency Night Shelter manager Marina Woodrow knew.

"We went to their funerals. We had met their families," said Ms Woodrow.

"Every death in Colchester, Essex or the UK is a tragedy, but I'm not surprised to see the figure increase when agencies are all scrambling for the same funding.

Sandy Martin, MP for Ipswich, says one homeless death in his town is 'one too many'  Picture: NK Photography.co.ukSandy Martin, MP for Ipswich, says one homeless death in his town is 'one too many' Picture: NK Photography.co.uk

"The waiting lists are huge for people who want support and want to work on changing their lives.

"A two-week wait for a homeless person can feel like a lifetime when they're spending at least 10 hours a day out on the streets."

While there was only one identified death while homeless in the Ipswich borough, the town's MP Sandy Martin insisted "one death is too many".

Mr Martin said: "I am determined to do whatever I can to end rough sleeping in Ipswich.

"There is a real problem with other local authorities shipping people who report as homeless in their areas into Ipswich.

"The Borough Council has made great strides in the last couple of years in providing accommodation for the homeless but it is time to end the ability of other councils to wriggle out of their moral responsibilities and I will be challenging the Government over this - it simply shouldn't be allowed."

Nationally the number of homeless deaths has increased by 22% - up to 726 people - the largest year-on-year increase on record.

The ONS has included the deaths of both people sleeping rough and using emergency temporary accommodation in their figures.

Ben Humberstone, Head of health analysis and life events at the ONS, highlighted a 55% increase in the number of homeless drug poisoning deaths as a particular cause for alarm.

The Anglia Care Trust (ACT), who provide support to people in need of emergency accommodation, are calling for greater connectivity between services to help save lives.

ACT business support director, Jane Simpson, said: "Our own experience is that the close relationships being built between housing, substance abuse outreach, treatment and mental health services is proving very beneficial.

"However, we also acknowledge the challenge in sustaining the lower numbers of deaths, as those requiring help can at times reject the help that is offered.

"ACT remains committed to working alongside partners to provide a holistic solution to tackling homelessness."

An Ipswich Borough Council spokesman said: "We take homelessness and rough sleeping very seriously and together with our partners, we work extremely hard throughout the year to prevent and reduce it.

"We lead a project that delivers a comprehensive package of interventions to support people from street to home, which has seen a significant reduction in numbers sleeping on the streets in the town and the associated harm to individuals.

"The Council's Housing Options team provide advice, support and assistance to hundreds of people each year, largely without being noticed, to prevent them from becoming homeless and we have recently extended our temporary accommodation offer by opening a new housing unit.

"The new site gives homeless families safe, quality and well managed temporary accommodation so that children's upbringing is disrupted as little as possible."

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