Yesterday a homeless man was found dying outside the houses of parliament. His name was Gyula Remes, he was working as a kitchen assistant at Charing Cross Station – and he was 43-years-old. Tragically Gyula died in hospital, and is one of many.
Today the ONS revealed that 597 homeless people died last year – an increase of 24% over the last five years. These numbers are shocking and should give us all pause for thought but behind the numbers are individual tales of tragedy and suffering. Human beings – mothers, fathers, daughters and sons – whose families will now be spending Christmas coming to terms with their loss. Just as Gyula’s friends and family will.
We’ve known for years that being homeless is incredibly dangerous. The average age of death for homeless people is just 44-years-old, more than 30-years less than the country as a whole. As well as facing a struggle to survive and escape extreme weather, homeless people are far more likely than the general public to be victims of violent crime or to die by suicide. But the underlying causes of why so many homeless people are dying are complicated and multi-faceted.
People can find themselves facing homelessness for a variety of reasons including family breakdown, financial difficulties, mental health problems or domestic abuse. But it’s the lack of the necessary safety net of support which, ultimately, leads to people sleeping rough and facing the hardship and dangers that brings. The government must urgently expand the system used to investigate the deaths of vulnerable adults to include all those who have died while street homeless, so that crucial lessons can be learned to help prevent more people from dying needlessly.
Unless urgent action is taken this situation is set to get far worse. Crisis research released last week revealed that 12,300 people are currently sleeping rough. We’re about to open our Christmas centres to homeless people across the country, where every year – above and beyond those who use our services year-round – we see thousands come through our doors who are suffering the devastating effects of homelessness. And it’s utterly heart-breaking.
But, it might surprise you to learn that the biggest cause of homelessness is loss of a private tenancy and this is something that can easily be changed. For far too long, the instability and spiralling costs of private renting, coupled with the huge disparity between housing benefit payments and rising rents, has been pushing more and more people into homelessness – particularly those in the most vulnerable circumstances. This is unacceptable, especially when we know what it takes to stop people from becoming homeless – a good place to start would be by making sure that housing benefit covers the cost of renting. We must ensure that people who have been homeless and who are rebuilding their lives in privately rented homes aren’t forced onto the streets or into unsuitable temporary accommodation.
If you take one thing from this blog let it be this: Homelessness is not inevitable. We know it can be ended if the root causes of it are fixed – like building the number of social homes we need and making sure our welfare system is there to support people when they fall on hard times. Indeed, we’ve set out the exact government policies that would end homelessness across Britain. Our research shows that, with these policies in place, homelessness could be ended in just ten years.
In one of the world’s wealthiest countries, no one should be dying because of homelessness. Even in the current febrile political climate there really can be no excuse for failing to act. Gyula’s tragic story has brought this issue home to roost for politicians in Westminster. This is a matter of life and death and it’s imperative that governments across Britain act now to end this tragedy once and for all.
To find out more about Crisis’ work this Christmas and year round – please visit crisis.org.uk