At least 58 people experiencing homelessness have passed away so far this year, according to data collated by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE).
A spokesperson for the DRHE expressed sympathy to the families, friends and support workers of the people who died.
“Many of the individuals who passed away this year, or in previous years, were receiving support from a variety of DRHE or HSE funded services, but, unfortunately, homelessness is often complicated by medical and/or social factors,” she said.
While the year is not yet over, 58 is more than 48 people who died in all of 2020, and a large jump up from the 26 people who died in 2019.
These figures do not include people who died while they were in long-term accommodation run by homeless charities.
It is not yet known what the causes of death were for the 58 people who passed away this year.
The Dublin District Coroner carries out an inquest each time a person dies in homeless emergency accommodation in the city. But there’s a backlog.
They haven’t yet completed inquests for the deaths that happened in 2019, said a staff member by email.
Anti-homelessness campaigner Fr Peter McVerry says he doesn’t know why more homeless people seem to be dying in recent years.
But he has noticed an increase in relapses and reduced access to addictions and mental health services since Covid-19 restrictions were introduced, he says.
“Everything closed down, day centres, AA Meetings and NA meetings were cancelled,” he says. “Counselling services were closed except for Zoom but most homeless people wouldn’t want to use Zoom.”
“They want face-to-face counselling,” he says.
During the summer of 2020, there was a surge in deaths among people experiencing homelessness, with ten deaths reported in the month of July alone.
This prompted questions within Dublin City Council and the Dáilas people tried to understand why the deaths in hostels and on the streets appeared to be increasing.
The DRHE commissioned a report to look more deeply at the numbers.
An interim report published in June looked at deaths in 2020. It was drawn up by Dr Austin O’Carroll, founder of the charity Safetynet which offers medical care to people experiencing homelessness.
It gave two figures for the number of deaths of those in homeless services, depending on who is counted.
There were 48 in 2020, it said, if you don’t count those in long-term supported accommodation and three people who died on the streets but were not known to homeless services.
Ten people died on the streets of Dublin in 2020, according to the report, but only three deaths of rough sleepers are included in the final tally. Four had had beds in hostels when they died, so were included as deaths in hostels, three weren’t known to statutorily-funded homeless service, and three were, says the report.
If all those sleeping rough and all the people in accommodation run by homeless charities are counted, there were 72 deaths.
Of the 58 people who have passed away in 2021, 35 were staying in charity-run emergency hostels, 19 were staying in emergency hostels run by private companies and four were rough sleepers.
It’s unclear how many people have passed away this year in long-term supported hostels run by homeless charities.
People in long-term supported accommodation are not counted as homeless by the Department of Housing or the Central Statistics Office, but that category of accommodation includes both long-term hostels and supported housing projects.
Dr O’Carroll’s report includes all deaths but focuses on the single homeless people who died in short-term accommodation and three of the rough sleeper deaths.
Those in long-term facilities are not counted as homeless in the census and some of the communal facilities are more like care homes than hostels, he says.
“I gave the figures separately,” he says. “But they are older, sicker people so it is like a nursing home of homelessness.”
He wanted to focus on the younger single homeless people who are dying before their time, he says.
Fr McVerry says it is easy to decide whether or not someone should be counted as a death in homeless services.
People who live in supported apartments and who have permanent tenancies shouldn’t be counted as homeless deaths because that apartment is their home, he says.
“If they are in a hostel that is a homeless death,” he says.