THE number of deaths from homelessness in Scotland has nearly doubled in four years, "shocking" new figures have revealed.

An estimated 222 people died while identified as experiencing homelessness in Scotland in 2021, according to a new report by the National Records of Scotland.

The figures show the numbers have nearly doubled since the 121 recorded fatalities in 2017, when records began.

There were two deaths where the underlying cause was Covid-19, but most were the results of drug-misuse.

Midlothian, Glasgow City, and the City of Edinburgh had the highest rates of homeless deaths within Scotland, whilst Na h-Eileanan Siar, Orkney Islands, Perth and Kinross, and Stirling council areas recorded none.

The Scottish Tenants Organisation (STO) said the homeless deaths record was "shocking" and a "national disgrace".

Some 81% of those who died were male and 60% were aged under 45.

HeraldScotland: Government figures showed there were 16 deaths of homeless people in Suffolk over the five years between 2013 and 2017. File picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Head of vital events at NRS, Julie Ramsay, 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".

Suicide accounted for 9% of the fatalities and 7% were alcohol-specific deaths.

She said that as in previous years, the death rate of males was "much higher" than that of females. Some 81% of deaths in 2021 were male and 19% were female.

And the age profile of females was younger, with 72% of those who died being under the age of 45.”

Separate NRS figures on estimated homeless deaths using a statistical model showed the numbers had risen from 164 in 2017 to 250 in 2021.

The development comes a day after the publication of the Blueprint to Save Lives report by advocacy group the Faces and Voices of Recovery (Favor), which claimed that politicians have "forgotten" Scotland's drugs deaths crisis.

STO campaign co-ordinator Sean Clerkin said: "The deaths are a national disgrace and the actual identified number of homeless deaths being the highest since they started keeping records in 2017 only compounds the shame of allowing so many homeless people to die unsupported as addiction services for alcohol and drugs and mental care have been slashed after a decade of cuts.

"There needs to be a a massive increase in public spending on addiction services and mental health care allied to the authorities building lot more social rented homes prioritising the homeless for new social rented homes with the wrap around services they need.

"We need actions not platitudes from both the British and Scottish Governments on tackling the scourge of homelessness in the 21st century."

Official figures for 2019 showed that Scotland had the highest homeless death rate when compared to England and Wales, with a rate of 52.2 per million population aged 15-74 compared to 18.0 in England and 14.3 in Wales.

Matt Downie, Chief Executive of 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.

“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.”

The death toll has come despite the offer of hotel accommodation to prevent deaths from Covid-19.

When lockdown began in March, hundreds of rough sleepers were brought in off the streets to help slow the spread of coronavirus.

With temporary accommodation full, many were placed in hotels. But campaigners raised concerns that that B&B's and hotels were not fit to deal with people in crisis and that consequently homeless people were losing out on access to drug and alcohol addiction services and mental health care.

Scottish Conservative shadow cabinet secretary for social justice, housing and local government Miles Briggs said the figures were "nothing short of appalling".

"My thoughts are with everyone who is grieving the loss of a loved one as a result," he said.

“In modern Scotland, it is shameful that hundreds of people are still dying on our streets. What is most concerning is that the figures are only heading in the wrong direction.

“The number of deaths is a blight on our communities and for far too long the SNP have failed to tackle the problem. Far too many of these deaths are still occurring as a result of drugs and, by her own admission, Nicola Sturgeon took her eye off the ball in tackling this crisis.

“This must be an urgent wake-up call for SNP ministers to finally back the Scottish Conservatives’ Right to Recovery Bill. That would guarantee access to treatment for all those who need it and who are struggling with addiction.”

In response to the death toll numbers, housing secretary Shona 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.

“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. A recent evaluation of Scotland’s Housing First pathfinder programme saw 579 people with experience of homelessness and multiple disadvantage receive keys to a new home and a new life. 

“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.”

The NRS said that estimated homeless deaths figures were  experimental".

They admit that establishing an accurate number is "hard" because not all people who die while experiencing homelessness have their lack of permanent home recorded on their death registration record.

The estimated number of deaths is established by examining death registration records to find people who were either in temporary accommodation or were sleeping rough before they died and adding to this a conservative estimated figure based on sampling.

"The probability is the true figure is higher," it said.