BY Ryan McDougall | February 14 2020 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

Homeless Jesus Sculpture (9 of 15)

Surge in Scottish homeless deaths sparks major Church concern

Dioceses and activists call for better response as fresh statistics released

Three Scottish dioceses and a Church agency have called for action as ‘disturbing’ new figures have revealed a 19 per cent increase in the number of homeless deaths in Scotland.

The Archdioceses of Glasgow and St Andrews & Edinburgh, Aberdeen Diocese and Justice and Peace Scotland have all spoken out after it was revealed there was a 19 per cent increase in the number of homeless people who died in 2018 when compared with 2017.

The figures published by National Records of Scotland (NRS) estimated there were 195 deaths during the year. There were 164 in 2017.

The latest death rate of homeless people in Scotland is now more than double that of England and Wales’.

2018’s figures included a harsh period of winter weather, including a week of snow in February colloquially known as the ‘Beast from the East.’


Storm Ciara

This week Scotland faced similar weather, with Storm Ciara sweeping across the nation.

A rate of 35.9 per million population of homeless deaths was revealed to be Scotland’s statistic for 2018, compared with 16.8 in England and 14.5 in Wales.

53 per cent of the Scottish homeless deaths in 2018 were drug related, and 79 per cent of those who died were male.

The report states that Glasgow and Aberdeen recorded the highest rates—100.5 and 67.8 deaths per million respectively.

The death rates were also found to be above-average in Edinburgh and Dundee.


‘Grim life’

Glasgow Archdiocese warned that the recent poor weather in Scotland reminds us ‘how grim life is for the homeless and destitute.’

A spokesperson for the archdiocese said: “These figures reveal the awful reality. Every single death recorded here is a personal tragedy.

Every victim is somebody’s son or daughter.

“Alas there are no quick fix solutions which can eliminate such tragedies overnight, but we can all do something to help those we see on a daily basis, shivering and hungry on our streets.

“The Church is very much present in this area through the hard work of the Wayside Club of the Legion of Mary, but we can all do more.”

They added: “Pope Francis has been very clear that Catholics cannot take a judgemental or condescending approach to this issue and he leads us by example in showing the need to reach out and comfort those living is such difficult—and this report shows, potentially fatal—circumstances.”


Complex issue

In Edinburgh, a rate of 42.1 deaths per million was revealed by the report.

A spokesperson for St Andrews & Edinburgh Archdiocese said: “These figures are disturbing, particularly as the statistics show death rates from sleeping rough are above average in Edinburgh.

“Homelessness is a complex issue and work is being done by the Scottish Government to alleviate it. But this report should prompt a new approach for dealing with such a complex issue.”


Catholic aid

The spokesperson stated Catholic volunteers and other Christian churches within the area are ‘stepping up’ to help the homeless.

“For example, parishioners volunteer as part of catering teams doing shifts at the Bethany Christian Trust project in Gorgie Road in the city,” they explained.

“The winter care shelter runs throughout the winter period until May and in 2018 it welcomed 746 homeless people.”

Dr Glen Reynolds, Evangelisation and Communications officer for Aberdeen Diocese, explained Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire councils are rolling out initiatives across the region in order to alleviate the ‘underlying issues which create homelessness and all that flows from that desperate situation.’


‘Criminal’ conditions

Speaking on a personal capacity, Dr Reynolds, who is also a councillor for Aberdeenshire, added ‘as a Church community, all such situations that are contrary to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions’ are ‘criminal.’

Dr Reynolds continued: “Homelessness is an increasing issue within the UK. Evidence shows that there is a considerable link between homelessness and mental health problems; however, this link and that of mental health, the causes of which can of course be many and varied.

“‘The Son of God came into this world as a homeless person. The Son of God knew what it was to be a homeless person, what it was to start life without a roof over his head,’ Pope Francis has said, before adding ‘we can imagine what Joseph must have been thinking. How is it that the Son of God has no home? Why are we homeless, why don’t we have housing?’



“There are many Catholic charities that work closely with these issues and their underlying causes, and I pray that they are supported more in all that they do. We think and pray for those who are really struggling in the tough parts of our system, in the margins of society.”

Last year, Catholic charities, including Justice and Peace, asked the Church to utilise its unused property to house homeless people and asylum seekers who had been left on the streets amid Serco lock-changing evictions.

Responding to the fresh statistics, a spokesperson for Justice and Peace Scotland said: “It’s incredibly worrying to learn that new figures show deaths of   homeless people in Scotland have risen, especially when you take into account the weather over the last few days with storm Ciara and the likelihood that due to climate change we will face increasing episodes of extreme weather in the future, putting more lives at risk.”

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