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Social disadvantage and addiction are primary reasons for high mortality rate among Ireland's homeless

A new report from Dublin County Council found that there is a higher mortality rate among single homeless people.

A homeless person on Waterloo Road, Dublin (file photo)
A homeless person on Waterloo Road, Dublin (file photo)
Image: Shutterstock/Damien Eagers

SINGLE PEOPLE EXPERIENCING homelessness have a higher mortality rate than the general population and adults in homeless families, according to a new report by Dublin City Council (DCC).

The main determinants of early death in people experiencing homelessness are structural causes, according to the report.

It found that social disadvantage and addiction are the primary reason for a high mortality rate among those who are experiencing homelessness.

The Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE), provided by DCC, commissioned Dr Austin O’Carroll to complete the “Interim Report on Mortality in Single Homeless Population 2020″. It found that 47 single homeless people died in 2020, compared to the one person in family homelessness who died that year.

This figure is up from 2019, when 26 single homeless people died.

The median age of the deaths was 43; 46 years for men and 33 years for women.

People experiencing single homelessness are defined as people who are single or in a couple and experiencing homelessness, but do not have any children.

The number of homeless people in the single population in 2020 increased since 2019, from 2,550 people to 2,865 people.

These figures include those in emergency accommodation and sleeping rough, but are separate from those in long-term homelessness accommodation, social tenancies and those not registered with the DRHE.

Overall, there were 79 homeless deaths recorded by the DHRE.

The report found that “the longer one is homeless, the higher the death rate” and that “the rise in death rates is particularly steep after 18 months.”

This could be related to the age profile of those in long-term homelessness, the effects of homelessness, or the cause of the person being homeless long-term, for example, substance abuse or mental illness.

The report said “most homeless people originate in areas of deprivation and poverty”, which already contributes to a lower life expectancy and poorer health.

As well as this, poverty is associated with substance abuse, which is in turn associated with an increased risk of homelessness, as is enduring mental illness.

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Homelessness itself is also associated with poorer health and lower life expectancy.

The report recommended tackling these structural issues by offering increased access to primary care and mental health services across all emergency accommodation, and extending suicide prevention programmes.

It also recommended extending overdose prevention programmes, such as developing supervised injection centres, widening distribution of Naloxone for opioid users and access to Opiate Substitution Treatment, which fell from 12 weeks of access time to three days, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This interim report can only be complete when death certificates and inquest reports from the Coroner’s Office become available, as well as data on deaths in the general population from the Central Statistics Office.

The report also said there needs to be improved data collection and analysis and recommends a rapid review of clusters of deaths which “may be linked”, according to a press statement.

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