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Ten people experiencing homelessness died per month in 2020, new data shows

The Health Research Board’s report shows that 121 people who were experiencing homelessness died in 2020.

TEN PEOPLE EXPERIENCING homelessness died per month in 2020, new data shows. 

The Health Research Board (HRB) has published a report, based on national data from closed coronial files, which shows that 121 people who were experiencing homelessness died in 2020. 

This is the equivalent of 10 deaths per month, and an increase on the previous year’s figure of 92. 

“Behind each of these numbers is a life lost. The findings of this report highlight the very difficult situation faced by some of the most vulnerable people in our community,” HRB chief executive Dr Mairead O’Driscoll said.

The data shows that three in four of those who died in 2020 were male. 

Half of the males who died were aged 42 or younger, while half of the women were aged 36.5 or younger. This is considerably younger than comparable figures for deaths in the population as a whole, where the majority of deaths are in the 65+ age group.

Over half of the deaths occurred in Dublin.

Over two in three of the deaths were among people who were experiencing homelessness and in temporary or crisis accommodation, while a total of 23 people who died were known to have been sleeping rough.

Almost half of deaths in 2020 occurred in specific accommodation for those who were experiencing homelessness, with a further one in three occurring in a public place.

Of those who died, one in five females and once in 10 males were known to have spent time in prison.

Substance use

Almost all (91%) who died had a history of substance use, with high levels of multiple drug use.

Heroin (61%) was the most common drug used by those with a history of drug use, followed by cocaine (56%), and benzodiazepines (36%). Of those that had used substances, over four in 10 were alcohol dependent.

There was a high proportion of people who injected drugs, especially among men, and a high prevalence of hepatitis C (over one in 10 men, and almost two in 10 women).

Almost half of those who died had ever accessed substance use treatment.

One in five were receiving treatment for problem opioid use, mainly methadone treatment, at the time of death (35% of females and 17% of males).

Cause of death

Poisoning was the cause of nearly six in 10 deaths. The most common drugs implicated in poisoning deaths were opioids (mainly heroin and methadone), followed by benzodiazepines and cocaine.

Just over half of those whose death involved opioids had previously received substance use treatment.

More than two in three deaths involving opioids occurred in accommodation for persons who are homeless, while one in three of the deceased were with other people at the time of their death.

There were 52 non-poisoning deaths recorded among people who were homeless, with the majority (85%) among males.

Deaths due to cardiovascular conditions accounted for one in four non-poisoning deaths, with the majority occurring among males.

There were 11 (9%) deaths among people who were experiencing homelessness and who had no recorded history of drug or alcohol use.

Over half of the deceased had a known history of mental health issues.

“The Health Research Board’s aim in capturing and analysing data on the nature and circumstances of these deaths is to provide evidence that can inform harm reduction strategies and future policies to support those experiencing homelessness,” Dr O’Driscoll said. 

The HRB said this study builds on a pilot requested by the Department of Health which looked at 2019 deaths in order to present a more complete national picture of premature mortality among people who are experiencing homelessness. 

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