PEOPLE are dying on the streets of our towns without a home to call their own, with dozens of North-East residents lost forever to the despair, the chaos and complications of homelessness last year.

Figures released today show that an estimated 36 homeless people died in this region in 2018, with 157 losing their lives in the North-East since 2013.

In 2018, 726 homeless deaths were recorded in England and Wales, according to the Office of National Statistics, representing an increase of over a fifth in just a year and the highest number on record.

According to new data for the North-East, the 2018 deaths represent 18 in a million people and a rise on the previous year’s figure of 32 deaths.

Newcastle has the third highest rate in the country, with estimated homeless deaths representing 87.2 per million people.

However, those closest to the issue believe the stark figures do little to reflect the true scope of the problem.

The loved ones of those who die homeless, the frontline workers and the volunteers dedicating their lives to supporting people without stable accommodation are among those who suspect the true figures could be much higher.

Official statistics for Middlesbrough say 17 have died since 2013, with three losing their lives last year.

However, nine regulars at a homeless café in Middlesbrough are said to have died since April, leaving volunteers and visitors alike reeling with grief.

Susan Gill, who runs the Gresham café, has seen first-hand the devastation caused by homelessness and paints a bleak picture of the heartbreak, chaos and complexity that surrounds it in her Teesside town.

The Northern Echo:

The Neighbourhood Welfare cafe in Middlesbrough

Drugs are ravaging Middlesbrough and its people, she believes, with addiction, dealers and illicit dens across the town helping to drive desperate people into an early grave.

“They’re overdosing behind supermarkets,” she says, “And they’re mixing it with all sorts, even vinegar.

 “One lad was injecting and they found it in his lungs and his heart at post-mortem, it was heroin.

“I organised his funeral, it was one he would not have had otherwise.”

She said: “It’s desperation and there’s not a lot out there now in terms of recovery.

“There are a lot of people we’re not ever going to be able to help but there are some who want and will take support if it’s there, and it can make a real difference.”

The death of homeless Middlesbrough man Michael Cash in September 2018 sent shockwaves throughout the community and across the UK.

He was found dead in an Eston cemetery just days after being spray painted by Aaron Jones in a cruel attack that took place as he sat outside of a supermarket in Normanby, with video footage of the incident subsequently going viral.

The Northern Echo:

Tributes left in memory of Michael Cash 

Ms Gill said homeless people were often treated cruelly by others and faced violence and intimidation on the streets, adding: “It has a huge impact on them and there’s no need to target someone who’s already down on their luck, it’s absolutely horrible.”

Mr Cash’s death was recorded as drug related at an inquest held in February, with his family later sharing the heart-breaking story of how he ended up on the streets after losing his beloved mother and spiralling into addiction.

Two in five deaths of homeless people in England and Wales were related to drug poisoning in 2018, with the number of such deaths increasing by 55 per cent since 2017.

Ms Gill believes the drugs and substances turned to by many of her clients are a consequence of other problems and thinks a number of fatal overdoses could have been deliberate.

She said benefit sanctions and the introduction of Universal Credit were leaving people struggling financially and plunging many into poverty, leaving them desperate and vulnerable to homelessness and mental health problems.

Ms Gill said cuts to funded and targeted services were having a real impact on the kind of support people could receive locally.

She called on authorities to do more to reinstate depleted or lost services and increase the help available, both in our region and further afield.

Ben Humberstone, head of health analysis and life events at the Office of National Statistics, said drug poisoning was a significant factor in the rising number of homeless deaths nationally.

He said: “The deaths of 726 homeless people in England and Wales recorded in 2018 represent an increase of over a fifth on the previous year. That’s the largest rise since these figures began in 2013

“A key driver of the change is the number of deaths related to drug poisoning which are up by 55% since 2017 compared to 16% for the population as a whole.”

  • The ONS statistics mainly include people sleeping rough or using emergency accommodation such as homeless shelters and direct access hostels, at or around the time of death.