By Sonia Elks
LONDON, Oct 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Research showing that 449 homeless people died in Britain last year, many while sleeping rough, exposed a "horrifying" and "unforgivable" housing crisis, charities said on Tuesday.
A former soldier, a quantum physicist and a travelling musician were among the dead, aged between 18 and 94, who lost their lives on the streets, in temporary housing and hospitals, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ).
"Rising levels of homelessness are a national disgrace, but it is utterly unforgivable that so many homeless people are dying unnoticed and unaccounted for," Polly Neate, chief executive of housing charity Shelter, said in emailed comments.
"This important investigation lays bare the true brutality of our housing crisis," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Homelessness charity Crisis estimates there are 236,000 people sleeping rough or in temporary accommodation in Britain, with numbers increasing since 2010 amid a decline in housebuilding and rising property prices.
Britain does not publish numbers on homeless people's deaths, though the Office for National Statistics announced it is collecting experimental data for release later this year.
The government pledged this year to end rough sleeping in England by 2027, with a 100 million pound ($128 million) package including funding for housing, mental health treatment and staff training.
"Every death of someone sleeping rough on our streets is one too many and we take this matter extremely seriously," a housing ministry spokesman said in emailed comments.
The BIJ, which worked with local journalists, coroners' reports, soup kitchens and families to gather the data, found the average age at death was 49 for men and 53 for women, with causes ranging from drug overdoses to starvation.
More than half died on the streets, among cases where the location of death was known, the BIJ found, warning that the true number of deaths was "likely to be much higher".
"This is a wake-up call to see homelessness as a national emergency," said Jon Sparkes, head of Crisis, which says rough sleepers are 17 times more likely to be victims of violence and nine times more likely to commit suicide than the wider public.
"To think of just one person dying due to the consequences of poverty and homelessness is appalling, but to learn of the sheer scale of those who've lost their lives in the past year is nothing short of horrifying." ($1 = 0.7670 pounds)
(Reporting by Sonia Elks; Editing by Katy Migiro; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, resilience and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.)
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