AN estimated 250 homeless people died in Scotland last year, figures show.

Although down slightly from 2020, when there were an estimated 256 such deaths, the total for 2021 is 52% higher than the first time the figures were produced in 2017.

Housing Secretary Shona Robison described the figures, produced by National Records of Scotland (NRS) as “heart-breaking reading”.

The NRS report revealed: “There were an estimated 250 homeless deaths in Scotland in 2021. This is at a similar level to 2020.

“Homeless deaths were at a higher level now compared to 2017, when these statistics were first collected.”

According to the experimental statistics, just over half of deaths amongst those who were homeless were due to drug misuse – with this being the cause of 127 deaths, representing 51% of the total.

Suicide accounted for 9% of deaths, while 7% were related to alcohol, according to NRS.

There were also two recorded deaths of people experiencing homelessness where Covid-19 was the underlying cause of death in 2021.

The vast majority (81%) of homeless deaths were males, while 60% of those who died were under 45 years of age.

In the report, NRS explained that as homeless deaths “are difficult to count” the method it used “tries to account for and estimate how many we might have missed”.

Of the 250 deaths that occurred last year, 222 were identified from death registration records, with an additional 28 deaths estimated using statistical modelling.

As experimental statistics are still in the testing phase, and are “not yet fully developed”, the NRS report added: “They have not yet been assessed against the rigorous quality standards of National Statistics.”

Julie Ramsay, head of vital events at NRS, said: “Drug-misuse deaths of people experiencing homelessness fell in the past year for the first time, from 151 to 127, but it was still the cause of over half of all deaths for people experiencing homelessness in 2021.

“As in previous years, the death rate of males is much higher than that of females. 81% of deaths in 2021 were male and 19% were female. The age profile of females was younger, with 72% of those who died being under the age of 45.”

Matt Downie, the chief executive of the charity Crisis, said: “No one should accept these figures as normal. Every single one of these deaths represents a tragedy and an injustice. Every one of these people were part of our communities and they will be missed.

“People are dying while experiencing homelessness year on year on year, leaving friends and families behind and with their potential left unrealised.

“We must act now to stop more people dying while experiencing homelessness. This can’t be allowed to keep happening.

“We must prevent homelessness from happening in the first place, and provide support for people who have lost their home, to help them end their homelessness.”

He added: “We know what causes homelessness, and we know how to end it. If we work together we can do that. But we don’t have a moment to waste.”

Robison said: “Behind every statistic is a human story and this year’s report provides heart-breaking reading.

“We know that experience of multiple forms of extreme disadvantage, including homelessness, poor mental health and opioid dependence, is linked to higher rates of ill health and premature death.

“We are committed to doing all we can to address disadvantage and prevent homelessness from happening in the first place.”

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The Housing Secretary continued: “That is why we are introducing new homelessness prevention duties in the forthcoming Housing Bill and why we continue to support local authorities to develop housing first programmes.”

She added: “While it is positive to see a fall in the number of drug-related deaths compared to 2020, the numbers remain worryingly high.

“One focus of the national mission on drug deaths is to strengthen partnerships between health and homelessness services to improve outcomes for people experiencing homelessness and multiple complex needs, including substance use.”