Tower Hamlets had highest number of death of homeless people in London last year

A homeless person at the entrance to Bethnal Green Underground station. Pic: Dr. Neil Clifton

Tower Hamlets had the highest rate of homeless deaths among all London boroughs in 2021, according to data released last week by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). 

The data shows that Tower Hamlets saw 12 identified homeless deaths in 2021, 5 more than the previous year. The data also suggests that the estimated number of homeless deaths in the borough in 2021 was even higher, at 19.

The borough has one of the highest rates of homelessness in ​​London and the number of rough sleepers has been consistently rising over the last few years according to reports by the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN). 

Pic: Areeba Hasan

Councillor Asma Begum, told ELL that the issues faced by residents in Tower Hamlets has “evolved” over recent years: “When I first started out, a lot of it [resident’s issues] was around general repairs… It’s moved on substantially and I now see poverty in places you would never have thought… it’s a combination of employment, the housing crisis and the cost of living crisis that has hit people quite severely so that it’s very difficult to make ends meet.”

She added: “Nobody used to come in to my surgeries in tears, whereas now every week if I go to my surgery I see residents crying and I’m not able to provide them the support that they require because what they need is [this] combination of things.”

Nicky Tallintire, the housing manager at Tower Hamlets based homeless charity GrowTH, said: “Many of the clients we work with have a real and pressing need to stay in or very close to the borough and it has become harder and harder for them to find adequate housing options.”

Overall in London, there were 100 identified homeless deaths in 2021. However, estimated deaths were reported to be much higher at 154, bringing the estimated deaths per million total population to 22.5.  

Pic: Areeba Hasan. Source: Office for National Statistics (ONS)

The estimated homeless deaths in London made up for about 20 per cent of the total number of homeless deaths in England and Wales.

The Guardian reported that over the past year, the number of people sleeping rough in London has increased by 24%, with over 3,500 people sleeping on the streets between June and September alone.  

Several initiatives to tackle homelessness have been introduced in London, including London’s first ever ‘Rough Sleeping Plan of Action’, the ‘Life off the Streets’ programme as well as the ‘Rough Sleeping Initiative‘ which will allocate £500 million to local councils over 2022-2025, including £5,407,694 to Tower Hamlets.

Begum emphasised the need to pay close attention to indicators like the rise in the number of food banks over the years to assess the rise in poverty and homelessness, as well as to find potential solutions for these issues.

She said: “not recognising that [the indicators] and being complacent is just adding to it all. Absolutely homelessness is something that we all would have imagined to see in the near future… I think once you acknowledge that and come to terms with how you tackle that, it gives us an idea about what needs to be done.”

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