HOMELESSNESS: West Dunbartonshire has highest death rate (196) for people with no secure accommodation

November 30, 2021

‘Shocking’ figures show half of record number of homeless deaths related to drugs

Down and out in Dunbartonshire and, top picture, Ashton View in Westcliff,  where homeless people are accommodated by West Dunbartonshire Council.

The figures, which included a record number of drug related deaths, increased despite work done across Scotland to make sure no-one remained on the streets during lockdown.

Despite these shocking figures, the SNP administration on West Dunbartonshire Council have agreed to sell off public land in Alexandria for a development of 35 private houses.

There would be no necessity for the housing department to allocate these newq social houses to homeless people, but they could be used for families already on the housing waiting list.

This would create alternative accommodation for the homeless, who are currently temporarily accommodated in flats at deprived Ashton View, Westcliff, Dumbarton.

The “homeless” accommodation in Westcliff, Dumbarton,  where there was a serious fire from which people had to be rescued in March this year.

The “shocking” figures released by the National Records of Scotland show an estimated 256 homeless people – including those in temporary accommodation – died last year.  The majority – 59 per cent – were under 45 when they died.

The number rose despite the work of the Everyone In programme, under which local authorities were given funding to ensure no-one was left sleeping rough during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The statistics count those in temporary accommodation such as hostels and homeless B&Bs as well as those on the streets. Over half – 59 per cent – were drug related deaths, which campaigners said highlighted the urgent need for drug consumption rooms (DCRs) to be legalised in Scotland.

The percentage of drug related homeless deaths has been increasing year-on-year since 2017, in line with rises in homeless deaths themselves.


People without a secure home struggle to access the support they require and with over half (59 per cent) of deaths of people experiencing homelessness being drug related

Alison Watson, Director of Shelter Scotland


The decision to collate the figures in Scotland and England and Wales followed a year long investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism into the number of people dying across the country.

Through a series of freedom of information requests and personal testimonies, The Ferret reported in October 2018 that at least two people were dying every week, with the number expected to be far higher. In February 2020 the National of Records published official estimates for the first time, estimating 164 deaths in 2017 and 195 in 2018.

The newly released figures for 2020  – which record an increase of almost 20 per cent on the previous year – show that deaths are not connected to the highest levels of homelessness. Local authorities with the highest death rate per million population included West Dunbartonshire (196), Inverclyde (123) and South Ayrshire (115). 

The highest number of homeless deaths last year was in May, when 29 people died. The Ferret has previously heard that during lockdown many people struggled to access drug and alcohol services.

197 people who died were men, and 18 of them were 15-24 years old. Six of the 60 women who died were in that age bracket.

Jess Turtle, co-founder of the Museum of Homelessness, which took over the Dying Homeless project from the Bureau, said her team were “deeply saddened and outraged by the increase in deaths of people who are homeless, especially in a year when people should have been safer through the Everyone In programme”.

Basket case West Dunbartonshire Council had nothing to say to The Dumbarton Democrat about being top of the list for homelessness deaths, but SNP Housing Secretary Shona Robison, pictured right, said every single one of the deaths captured by the “concerning” figures was a “tragedy”. 

The full report on this investigation is on The Ferret website

Meanwhile, having somewhere to call home is a basic human right. We want to ensure that nobody has to face the blight of homelessness and everyone has a safe, warm place they can call home.

The Scottish government says it is investing £50 million to transform the homelessness system and implementing the updated Ending Homelessness Together action plan, which builds on our 2018 action plan, and includes actions to respond to COVID-19

  • preventing homelessness happening in the first place
  • transforming temporary accommodation by transitioning to rapid rehousing by default and ending the use of night shelters by expanding rapid rehousing approaches, such as Housing First. We are also working to reduce the use of temporary accommodation in general
  • providing annual updates, as well as homelessness statistics twice a year, to monitor our progress towards ending homelessness

Under the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987  a person should be treated as homeless, even if they have accommodation, if it would not be reasonable for them to continue to stay in it.

Local authorities have a legal duty to help people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. They do this by:

  • providing information and advice on homelessness and the prevention of homelessness
  • offering temporary or permanent accommodation

Homeless and Homeless Prevention Services in West Dunbartonshire provide a 24 hour service every day of the year.

If you need help and assistance during office hours (09.30am until 04.30pm) please go to your local offices or call the following numbers:

  • Clydebank area – 01389 776400
  • Dumbarton area – 01389 776400
  • Alexandria area – 01389 776400

If you become homeless when Council Offices are closed you can request assistance from a Homelessness Officer by calling:

Freephone:  0800 197 1004

Meanwhile, responding to the new figures published by National Records of Scotland showing that an estimated 256 people died while experiencing homelessness in Scotland in 2020, an increase of 40 deaths when compared to the previous year, Scottish Liberal Democrat communities spokesperson Willie Rennie, pictured left, said:  “It is a national shame that so many homeless people have died and that there has been another shocking increase. It looks like Scotland will continue to have the highest rate of deaths in the whole of the UK.   This is a reflection of failed policies on drugs, mental health and housing.   The Scottish Government were astonishingly complacent. They thought that giving homeless people a hotel room through the pandemic was enough, but all these deaths show it takes more than a roof to tackle homelessness. People deserve proper all-round support to meet all their health, welfare and economic needs and this government has failed to adequately address that for years on end.”


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