This will be the last Christmas for more than 700 people sleeping rough warns The Salvation Army

published on 2 Dec 2019

Rough Sleeper sitting on pavement

Hundreds* of homeless people will die over the festive period warns The Salvation Army today. The Church and charity is calling for urgent investment in projects to catch people before they fall into the rough sleeping trap. 

To save lives, The Salvation Army is urging the next Government to prioritise investment in services to tackle the root causes of homelessness which can be anything from poor mental health, chronic illness or addiction.

Mitch Menagh, The Salvation Army’s Director for Homelessness Services said: 

“We will always provide shelter for those forced to sleep rough especially during winter but, for many, a temporary safe space and a hot meal are not enough to save them. 

“Those people we help invariably have complex multiple needs including relationship breakdown, childhood trauma, alcohol dependency and drug abuse. Homeless people die young and that won’t stop until there is investment in support to help end the revolving door of homelessness.”

Among those who have died too soon are people like ‘Daniel’. He was 42 and had been homeless for six months. He’d had a good job until he was injured at work, which left him suffering a stroke and repeated seizures that became more and more frequent. He received no compensation from his employers.

The seizures were so severe that he needed facial surgery after hitting his face during one of them and he turned to alcohol. Daniel died after he took an overdose.

The Salvation Army’s has used Office for National Statistics* data for England and Wales to analyse the likely death rate of homeless people over the winter period. These figures show that:

• An estimated 726 people who were homeless died in England and Wales in 2018 - the highest year-on-year increase (22%) since records began in 2013. 

• 222 homeless people died over the winter of 2016/2017*  

• The number of deaths has steadily risen since 2014.

When the temperature drops, The Salvation Army, along with local authorities and other organisations, provide a network of emergency shelters to ensure that no one has to spend the night on the street. While this emergency provision is essential and will stop people freezing to death, it does not protect people from the dangers of homelessness and does nothing to break the cycle of rough sleeping.

The Salvation Army is calling on the next Government to:

• Invest in supported housing which provides a home but also services to tackle the root causes of homelessness which can be anything from poor mental health, chronic illness or addiction. 

• Provide targeted investment so local authorities properly fund localised support for homelessness. 

• Ensure that more people can afford private sector rents by increasing the Local Housing Allowance so that people on benefits and low incomes are able to afford at least three in every ten rented homes.


As well as accommodation, The Salvation Army offers personalised support to rough sleepers. The Salvation Army has more than 80 homelessness services around the UK and the Republic of Ireland. 

Lifehouses (supported housing) operated by The Salvation Army help rough sleepers get back into a home of their own. Out of the 1,139** people who stayed at a Salvation Army Lifehouse in England in 2018, 12% found a new tenancy in the private or social rented sector, while 29% of people moved on to live with family or friends, often in private or social rented housing.   

Lifehouse residents are supported by a range of courses and activities which include employment skills and cookery classes, to how to maintain a tenancy - an important part of breaking the cycle of homelessness.

The Salvation Army also offers hundreds of temporary places in night shelters and severe weather emergency accommodation for rough sleepers, both at Lifehouses and in church and community centres.


About the figures:

The Salvation Army analysed tables of data from the Office for National Statistics covering 2013-2018. A detailed monthly breakdown of deaths is available for 2013-17 but not yet published for the 2018 headline data.

*An average of 54 (rounded up from 53.8) people died in December over the past five years (2013-2017). We reached this figure by taking the total number of estimated December deaths between 2013 and 2017 and then dividing them by the number of years.

Over the winter period (November 2016 to February 2017) there were 222 deaths. We reached this by totalling the number of deaths over these months. 

You can find links to our source ONS datasets here: 


Figures for 2018


More detailed figures for the previous five years


**Source: Salvation Army analysis of what’s required from the 2019 Spending Review (homelessness)

Rough sleeping

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