Seven homeless people died on average every month during 2019 - Health Research Board

The median age of those who died was 40, with over half dying from drug or alcohol overdoses, the first study of its kind has found

There were 84 premature deaths among homeless people in Ireland in 2019, the first detailed study into mortality of this group has found.

The study by the Health Research Board (HRB) showed that about seven homeless people a month died.

The starkest finding was the median age of those who died was just over 40.

The HRB used 2019 mortality data among people known to be homeless from closed files in the Coroners’ Service. It was the first such survey done and the HRB will repeat the exercise for each subsequent years.


Other findings showed that a large majority, 81 per cent of those who died were male with 19 per cent woman.

Four out of ten died in a public place, public building or a derelict building. Three out of ten died in emergency accommodation.

The cause of death in 55 per cent of aces was poisoning from opioids, benzodiazepines, Z-drugs or alcohol.

Almost all (93 per cent) had a history of substance use with a high level of polydrug use. There was a high proportion of injectors among the group, especially among men.

The prevalence of hepatitis C in this cohort was also high, as was the incidence of epilepsy in this group relative to the general population.

Almost two fifths had a mental health issue, notably higher among women (three out of four). Women were proportionally more likely than men to have a mood disorder and have a history of a previous suicide attempt.

A quarter of the deaths that resulted from non-poisoning were due to hanging.

Eighteen people who died appeared to be rough sleepers, with a further 40 known to be accessing crisis homeless accommodation.

Only a third of the men who died were in contact with medical services compared to almost two-thirds of women who died.

One third of people who died by hanging died in homeless accommodation. Six people who died by hanging had a history of using drugs with the main substances used being cocaine, heroin, cannabis, and benzodiazepines.

This was the first Irish study to examine the number and cause of death in people who were homeless at the time of their death on a national basis.

Dr Ena Lynn, Senior Researcher at the HRB, and lead author of the report, said: “Two important insights from this data are the role of substance use and the high levels of mental health and medical issues among those who died, showing that this is a vulnerable population with complex needs. There is no one single solution to these challenges, but our findings can help shape holistic responses across healthcare services.”

Minister for State at the Department of Health Hildegarde Naughton said the report made for very difficult reading. “I am very conscious that behind every statistic is a human story,” she said.

“I am however hopeful that as these figures reflect the situation pre COVID-19, the follow-up study will reflect the impact of the enhanced public health measures that have been implemented since the onset of the pandemic.”

The Department said that since 2019, a homeless deaths coordinator has been appointed, a supervised injecting facility for street drug users has been approved, as well as increased availability of antidotes for opioid overdoses, better opioid substitution treatment, and the provision of €25 million for a 100 bed unit to give medical treatment to people who are homeless.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times