The Dublin Region Homeless Executive Has Abandoned Research into the Causes of Homeless Deaths

The numbers of homeless people dying in Dublin has escalated sharply in recent years. It rose from 49 deaths in 2019, to 75 in 2020 and further still to 102 in 2021.

But last week, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive said that long-awaited research into the causes of these deaths is no longer proceeding.

In June 2021, Dr Austin O’Carroll published the Interim Report on Mortality in Single Homeless Population 2020, which promised to follow up with full information on causes of death once coroner’s reports were available.

However, a spokesperson for the DRHE said last week that isn’t happening.

It had agreed with the HSE that the Health Research Board was the appropriate body to collect, review and analyse deaths among homeless people, said the spokesperson. “And make recommendations on the prevention of deaths.”

A spokesperson for the Health Research Board said it is only looking into the deaths of homeless people in 2019, which was before the increases in deaths of the following years.

“People are still dying,” says Louisa Santoro, the CEO of the Mendicity Institution, a homeless day centre. “And we still aren’t doing any research.”

One of her service users died on Monday. People’s lives are put at risk when they are refused accommodation in winter, Santoro says.

This week she tried to get accommodation for a Brazilian national who has lived here for two years and has been sleeping outside for around two months, she says.

He was refused emergency accommodation because he is on a student visa, she says. “Be that as it may, it is minus four outside,” says Santoro. “Read the mercury.”

How Does Dublin Compare?

Based on data compiled by the Museum of Homelessness, Dublin’s homeless death rate is on a par with the hardest-hit cities in the United Kingdom.

In 2021, eighty homeless people died in Glasgow while the city had 1,879 single people in temporary accommodation at the end of 2021. Assuming most of the deaths were among the single homeless population, that would suggest a death rate of around 4.2 percent.

Thirty three people died in Westminster in London, which had a single homeless population of around 942, suggesting a death rate of around 3.5 percent.

In Dublin, the rate was 3.2 percent. One hundred and two people died from a single homeless population of 3,133 at the end of 2021.

There are some differences in how cities count. The 102 homeless people who died in Dublin in 2021 included those in long-term supported accommodation, some of which is flats.

The figures for the UK, collated by the charity the Museum of Homelessness, include people in supported housing. But it also includes people who died while in precarious living situations like couch surfing, which the Irish figures do not.

To put those death rates in context, there were 33,000 deaths registered in Ireland in 2021, according to the CSO, which was 0.7 percent of the population of more than five million.

Why Are People Dying?

The Museum of Homelessness analysed the causes of death for around a fifth of those who died while homeless in the UK.

It found that most of the deaths were either alcohol- and drug-related including overdoses (41 percent) or were people who took their own lives (12 percent).

Santoro says she doesn’t accept that the current level of homeless deaths in Dublin is inevitable or unavoidable. Better management of homeless services could lead to better results, she says.

She recalls 11 people she knew who have died. Most were either sleeping outside or in private hostels without any supports, she says. “Each case is complex but many of them were not getting the support they needed.”

Most were also under 40, she says. “People’s mental health is deteriorating due to the standards of accommodation and the limited access to services.”

Just one example of how homeless services could improve is around the handling of addictions, she says.

Some of those who sought help for addictions couldn’t get a spot in rehab. One person who died had tried really hard to get sober but was left sharing a room with others who were drinking, she says.

Many of the people who would come to Mendicity Institution who died were drinkers, she says. A return to designated wet and dry hostels should help to reduce the death rate among homeless people in Dublin, says Santoro.

Designated dry hostels help those people who want to remain sober and drug-free, including those who have recently left rehab, or are trying to hold down jobs.

Wet hostels help people who are dependent on alcohol to manage their drinking, and it’s easier for the staff too. “If you run a wet hostel you know what people are drinking,” she says. “We have guys who are in wet hostels and their drinking has massively reduced.”

There are not enough of either type of specialist service, both of which require trained staff, Santoro says. There appears to be low motivation to improve the quality of homeless services overall, she says.

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Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at [email protected]

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