The equivalent of more than one person in the UK has died every day in the past year while living as homeless, a national investigation supported by the Yorkshire Evening Post has found.
They include at least seven people in Leeds who were sleeping rough or staying in a homeless hostel when they died.
Flowers were laid on city centre streets for many, while moving tributes were paid by the families and friends of others.
But until now there has been no official body tasked with recording homeless deaths such as these in the UK.
The Dying Homeless project, led by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, set out to address that lack of evidence, working with local journalists, charities and grassroots groups.
Together, they created the first ever year-long dataset of people who died while rough sleeping, living in temporary accommodation or sofa-surfing.
The findings, published last night, reveal that at least 449 people died in the UK while living as homeless in the 12 months from October 1, 2017.
Coun Debra Coupar, Leeds City Council deputy leader and executive member for communities, said: “I do think the numbers are shocking and that’s not the whole picture.”
The homeless charity Crisis said the sheer scale was “nothing short of horrifying”, with chief executive Jon Sparkes adding: “This is a wake-up call to see homelessness as a national emergency.”
More is known about the vulnerable people sleeping rough in Leeds than ever thanks to work undertaken by community safety partnership Safer Leeds as it prepared to launch of its Street Support Team.
And Leeds Safeguarding Adults Board is due to begin work on a thematic review into the deaths of rough sleepers.
Coun Coupar said: “Hopefully that will give us some lessons learned and best practice, or there will be the challenges that can be addressed and shared with other partners.”
The intelligence gathering undertaken focuses on a cohort of around 200 ‘street users’, including rough sleepers, beggars and people spending their days on the street in the city centre.
Mr Money said the group includes beggars who do have homes but appear to be people with nowhere else to go.
“They are the ones getting on the bus at 5am on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning, then travelling back home at 4am the next day with £200 in their pockets,” he said. “We know who they are and what the intervention needs to look like for them. We also know the highest risk, high threat people who could be the next to die on the streets. It’s a very different intervention for them.”
Coun Coupar added: “We have concerns about a number of street users in the centre who are extremely vulnerable to becoming severely ill or, in fact, dying because of the lifestyle on the streets. We can’t force people to take a certain path to help through health or a drug programme. We can show them how it’s possible – but actually it’s up to them to decide if they want it or not.”
Among the organisations which works closely with those entrenched rough sleepers is Leeds-based charity Simon on the Streets.
Its general manager, Gordon Laing, said he was not surprised by the number of deaths revealed but is hopeful that a new national strategy might improve things.
“It is being recognised as a problem and the Government is finally pulling its finger out,” he said. “I think they are doing it because of public pressure. They have realised people aren’t going to stand by and watch what is happening and they have to do something.
“There will always be people who don’t engage. But for the vast majority, hopefully services will be there for them.”