At least five homeless people died in Norfolk in 2020
- Credit: Denise Bradley
As part of a special series, Daniel Moxon looks at how efforts to support the homeless in Norwich have fared during the pandemic.
A social justice group recorded at least five deaths of people who were homeless in Norfolk in 2020, along with almost 1,000 more across the rest of the UK.
The Museum of Homelessness (MoH) said the national figure rose by more than a third on the previous year, and called for more to be done to stop such "terrible loss of life".
The museum's Dying Homeless Project recorded 976 deaths across the four nations in 2020, with 693 of those in England and Wales.
It used a combination of coroners' enquiries, verified media reports, family testimony and more than 300 Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to gather the data.
Of the five Norfolk deaths, three unnamed people, aged 23, 42 and 53, were revealed through FoI requests to have died in Great Yarmouth last year. One died in May, another in July and the third in November.
The other two were found through media coverage, including a man found "curled up in Debenhams doorway" in Norwich last April, and Lithuanian national Saulius Uzdavinys, whose body was discovered in a Wisbech hotel room last July. That death was classed as in Norfolk in the official figures.
The 976 deaths across the UK represents a 37pc rise on the 710 recorded the year before by MoH.
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Early last year, the government's 'Everyone In' scheme saw thousands of homeless people given emergency shelter and housing as the coronavirus pandemic hit.
In Norwich, everyone homeless person who consented to being put in accommodation was moved in the space of 48 hours by the city council and its Pathways partners, described as "just incredible" by St Martins chief executive Dr Jan Sheldon.
The MoH said its findings showed that, nationally, less than 3pc of recorded causes of death were directly attributed to coronavirus, which it described as a "significant achievement" of the scheme.
But it added the efforts could not make up for pre-pandemic cuts to services, coupled with the disruption caused by the outbreak.
Co-founder Jess Turtle said: "The government touts 'Everyone In' as a runaway success.
"But it didn't stop a staggering increase in the number of people dying while homeless – despite the best efforts of our colleagues around the country who worked 24 hours a day on emergency response."
She added their findings show that the pandemic affected a system "already cut to the bone from 10 years of austerity" and called on the government to "stop repackaging old funding commitments as new support and do more to stop this terrible loss of life".
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: "Every death of someone sleeping rough on our streets is a tragedy.
"We agree a safe home for all is vital – that's why we're providing over £700m this year and £750m next year to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, including delivering 3,300 long-term homes this year.
"The latest figures show that our ongoing 'Everyone In' initiative has housed 33,000 people, supporting 23,000 into settled accommodation or with move on support – and it will continue to protect thousands of lives."
On Tuesday, MoH campaigners called on people across social media to share photos of them lighting candles in memory of those who died homeless last year.
Shelter chief executive Polly Neate said: "A lot of hard work went into getting thousands of people off the streets at the start of the pandemic. But more become homeless every day because there aren't enough homes they can actually afford to live in.
"Pre-pandemic, there were over a million households on the social housing waiting list. As we look towards recovery, ending the housing crisis must be a priority.
"Now is the time to challenge the status quo and actually build the social homes we need to give everyone the security of a safe home."
Official figures on deaths of homeless people in England and Wales in 2020 are due to be released by the Office for National Statistics in October.