At least 51 homeless people have died over the past 18 months in Dublin and Belfast, according to figures released yesterday by the Dublin Simon Community and the Depaul Trust.
The number of deaths is thought to be higher, as the figures relate only to homeless individuals who have used the services of the two organisations.
The statistics, referred to at a pre-Christmas memorial service for deceased homeless people held in Dublin yesterday, show that 45 of those who have died in the past year and a half were based in the Dublin area.
Those who died would typically have been living either on the street or in emergency or other accommodation supported by the organisations.
The two agencies have also established that at least 228 homeless people who used their services have died over the past 35 years, of whom 53 were women. This figure is thought to be a significant underestimate, due to the difficulty with establishing records for the individuals concerned.
Aidan Stacey of the Dublin Simon Community said the 51 homeless people who had died in recent months ranged in age from their mid-20s to their 60s. He added that 59 people had been buried at Dublin Simon’s plot in Glasnevin Cemetery since it opened in October 1978.
While it was difficult to say definitively the extent to which homelessness contributed to the deaths of the 51 individuals, he said all would have been well known to the services offered by the Depaul Trust, which works in Dublin and Belfast, and Dublin Simon.
Dublin Simon Community alone works with an average of more than 700 homeless individuals on a monthly basis. The number of deaths recorded was "stark" for such a relatively small community, Mr Stacey said.
"In terms of factors, obviously many homeless people have addiction and related issues. Without access to accommodation or a stable living environment, that can lead to somebody sleeping rough and that is a severe danger to their health."
The memorial service yesterday took place at the Unitarian Church on St Stephen’s Green. Those present included many homeless people and volunteers with both organisations. The service, which was being held for the first time, also heard a roll call of the first names of those who have died in recent years, including 228 of the agencies’ service users and eight staff and volunteers.
The Simon Communities of Ireland recently said the Government’s pledge to end long-term homelessness by 2010 may not be met unless funding was increased in the next budget. It is seeking a 5 per cent increase in funding for homeless services.