Council bosses have vowed to “do everything” in their power to address deaths among the city’s homeless, as new figures reveal Aberdeen has the second highest number in the country.
Figures released by the National Records of Scotland (NRS) show the Granite City was second only to Glasgow, where 63 estimated deaths are thought to have taken place within the homeless population – 100.5 deaths per million population.
Aberdeen recorded 15 estimated deaths in 2018, compared to four the previous year.
Aberdeen City Council housing spokeswoman Sandra Macdonald said: “Any death resulting from homelessness is heartbreaking and we must do everything in our power to prevent such tragedies.
“The council provides considerable support for people who find themselves homeless including advice, case management, temporary accommodation and housing support to set up or maintain a tenancy.
“We also work closely with third sector partners to assist people who find themselves homeless.
“This includes being part of a forum aimed at drugs-related death prevention and being a consortium partner in a pathfinder programme entitled Housing First, which targets significant support for those affected by chronic and complex homelessness.
“It is important to remember that these figures are guestimates and that the methodology behind them is experimental.”
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Evan Adamson, who now runs the foodbank at Aberdeen charity Instant Neighbour, has personal experience of homelessness after he found himself sleeping rough under Union Terrace Bridge when he lost his family home and business.
He believes the “rising fear” of applying for Universal Credit could have impacted on the increase in the number of homeless people dying in the city.
He said: “There’s a rising fear of applying for Universal Credit, especially if they’re homeless.
“There is fear and contempt for the benefits system.”
Mr Adamson said while there is help out there, it can be difficult to access.
He added: “It’s about knowing where to go and knowing who to ask.
“There’s a huge swathe of people who fall through the cracks.
“There is the help I think in Aberdeen but I think the nature that’s arisen out of the benefits system is that it’s much harder to find.
“There’s a huge swathe of people who fall through the cracks.”
Mark Thomson, Shelter Scotland Aberdeen Community Hub manager, said: “Behind these figures lie individual personal tragedies. People living in desperate situations ultimately failed by the system.
“They will leave behind them bereaved relatives and friends who have our sympathies.
“To stop homelessness and the harm that it causes we need to prevent it happening in the first place.
“That starts with having more social housing available.”
However, Scottish Conservative north-east MSP Tom Mason pointed the blame at the Scottish Government, adding the figures were a “damning reminder” that more needs to be done.
He said: “The figures are absolutely shocking and these people who have been in desperate situations have been failed by the Scottish Government’s system.
“The SNP has had full control of the housing brief for more than 13 years now, yet still we see homelessness figures spiralling – it’s unacceptable.
“Not only is this a major contribution to homelessness but in Aberdeen we have seen issues including the loss of employment lead to situations like these – something which has been completely ignored by the Scottish Government.”
By contrast, Aberdeenshire Council saw the number of homeless deaths drop from seven in 2017 to three this year.
The local authority’s head of housing and building standards Rob Simpson said their priority is to provide temporary accommodation as “quickly as possible” to those in need.
He added: “All homeless people are also offered housing support to help them maintain their tenancies.
“While the number of deaths in accommodation is thankfully very low, it is sadly the case that some of those who present as homeless to us have multiple and complex needs that involve significant and potentially life-limiting health issues.”
Kevin Stewart, housing minister and Aberdeen Central MSP, said reasons that lead to homelessness are often “very complex”.
But he added: “This report shows that of the number of people who died while experiencing homelessness, 53% were drug-related deaths.
“This reflects the wider public health emergency Scotland is facing over drug deaths.
“The next meeting of the Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group will have a specific focus on public health and addiction issues and both myself and the public health minister will be attending.
“One person being made homeless is one too many and that is why the Scottish Government are working in partnership to transform services to ensure our system supports those at risk.”
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Universal Credit offers a range of specialised support to people struggling with homelessness and housing issues, including help with opening bank accounts, finding accommodation and budgeting.
“We recently announced a £3 million fund for Jobcentre staff to go out on the streets to help people who are homeless to claim benefits.
“People can find out more about what is available by visiting www.understandinguniversalcredit.gov.uk.”
According to the data, more than half of all homeless deaths in Scotland in 2018 were drug- related, however there was no breakdown of data provided to show the reasons behind the north-east deaths.