Figures obtained by the Sunday Herald from Glasgow City Council via freedom of information request reveal that at least 39 homeless people have died in Glasgow in the space of just 10 months.
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The deaths occurred between May 2016 and March 2017 with the city council admitting that the numbers likely underestimate the full scale of the scandal. Details of the number of deaths in other major Scottish cities are currently unavailable.
“Each one of these cases represents a human life lost too soon,” said Graeme Brown, Director of Shelter Scotland “We know that homeless people, in particular those who sleep rough, have worse health than the general population and are far more likely to die young.
“It is simply shameful that this is happening in 21st century Scotland. Sadly, we know that homelessness is still far from fixed in Glasgow and across Scotland today.”
The figures were collated through a Critical Incident Group which was set up in October 2016 but backdated to May that same year.
However, the council admits that it may not include all homeless deaths in the city “such as deaths of rough sleepers who are not from Glasgow or not engaged with our services”.
Shelter Scotland estimate that as many as 5,000 people sleep rough in Scotland every year, while over ten thousand households were in temporary accommodation last year.
Following the recent local elections, Labour lost control of Glasgow City Council for the first time in nearly 40 years. Brown has called on the new SNP administration in the City Chambers to take urgent action to address the problem.
“We urgently need real leadership and action across local and national government to get to grips with this problem," he said.
“Safe, secure and affordable housing is fundamental to the health and wellbeing of all of us as individuals and Scotland as a country. We hope the new administration in the city will prioritise tackling this challenge head on as a matter of urgency.”
Out of the 39 recent deaths in Glasgow, only five were over the age of 60, with the vast majority aged between 25 and 59.
One of those was Matthew Bloomer, 28, who was found dead outside the TJ Hughes department store on Argyle Street in Glasgow's Trongate in March after spending the night outside in freezing conditions.
At the time police said they were treating his death as “unexplained”.
In 2015, seventy homelessness caseworkers from Glasgow conducted a 17-week strike to demand better pay and conditions.
In January of this year, the Sunday Herald reported how staff in Glasgow City Council’s community teams complained of being overworked and understaffed. They said they were forced to turn people away without help because they have no accommodation to offer.
The rising problem of homelessness has led to heightened campaigning on the issue, with the graffiti “No More Homeless Deaths” seen daubed around the city. The sight of people, and sometimes couples, sleeping in door ways through out the city centre of Glasgow has become increasingly common over the last year, with beggars often on every street corner in the part of the city stretching from Central Station to Sauciehall Street.
The campaign group Homelessness Shame Glasgow had engaged in lobbying and direct actions to raise the profile of the issue, as well as organizing food and blanket distributions to people on the street.
The group has also called on empty buildings to be opened up to rough sleepers in order to protect them from the elements and prevent any future deaths.
Sean Baillie, an activist with the campaign, warned that the figures obtained by FOI are “a scary indication of the scale of the crisis Glasgow is suffering”.
He said: “Political pressure and action is desperately needed. The previous local government did all they could to cover up and dismiss the scale of the issue. Our hope is that with the change in leadership within the council, much more will be done.
“However, we will not be taking a back seat and giving any new councillors coming breathing space to settle in. We intend to continue to ramp up our actions to ensure that everyone in the city chambers knows that this must be a priority in order to prevent the devastating loss of lives in our city.”
Glasgow City Council says it receives around 6000 formal homelessness applications each year, with 2000 people housed in temporary accommodation at any one time.
Commenting in response to the high number of deaths, a spokesman for Glasgow Health and Social Care Partnership said: “These figures sadly reflect the harmful lifestyles and risk taking behaviours of some people who are affected by homelessness.
“In Glasgow there is a wide range of support available for vulnerable people and we are looking to implement new services that are relevant to those affected by homelessness, particularly in the city centre. We do whatever we can to engage with vulnerable people but offers of support can be declined.”