Almost 1,000 homeless deaths occurred last year across the UK, a social justice group has said.
The Museum of Homelessness (MoH) said the 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.
It said it had verified 693 homeless deaths in England and Wales, 176 in Scotland and 107 in Northern Ireland.
The total figure was up 37% on the 710 UK deaths reported in the 2019 study, it said.
The Government’s “Everyone In” scheme saw thousands of homeless people rapidly brought to safety at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
The MoH said its findings showed that less than 3% of recorded causes of death were directly attributed to coronavirus, which it described as a “significant achievement” of the scheme.
But it added that the efforts could not make up for pre-pandemic cuts to services, coupled with the disruption caused by the outbreak.
It said of the cases for which they had confirmed details of the cause of death, 36% were related to drug and alcohol use and 15% were suicide.
Jess Turtle, co-founder of MoH, 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.”
Thousands of people were prevented from becoming homeless during the coronavirus pandemic due to “bold” Government action, but councils fear a spike when protective measures end.
More than eight in 10 English councils surveyed in the annual The Homelessness Monitor: England 2021 said making housing benefit available to many more people living in poverty by raising the Local Housing Allowance rate had been important in tackling homelessness.
Some 87% said the suspension of evictions from social and private rented tenancies was “very important” in preventing and minimising homelessness.
The report, commissioned by Crisis and led by Heriot-Watt University and published on Monday, also found that 76% of councils said the same for the Everyone In scheme, which between March and November provided emergency accommodation to 33,000 people rough sleeping or at risk of rough sleeping.
But Jon Sparkes, chief executive of the charity Crisis, warned that ending these policies could force “devastating numbers” of people to the brink.
He added: “Homelessness in England was already perilously high before lockdown but the Westminster Government rightly recognised the unprecedented risks of the pandemic.
“Its bold action, along with the tireless work of councils across the country, has stopped thousands of people being forced onto the streets at the most dangerous of times.
“But ending policies like the evictions ban and the raising of the Local Housing Allowance rate prematurely could force devastating numbers of people to the brink.”
He called for a one-off package of financial support for the hundreds of thousands of renters in arrears in Wednesday’s Budget.
Mr Sparkes added: “But to make real, lasting change, we need the Westminster Government to ensure the urgency and commitment to tackling homelessness this last year becomes permanent.
“Removing barriers to accessing help must not be just emergency measures, but part of our long term strategy to ensuring everyone has a secure home.”
The latest figures showed that the number of people estimated to be sleeping rough on a single night in autumn fell by more than a third in a year.
There were 2,688 people estimated to be sleeping rough on any single night in England during October and November, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said earlier this month.
This is the third consecutive annual fall, and a drop of 37% compared with 2019, but it remains 52% higher than the number estimated in 2010, when the “snapshot” approach was first introduced.
The Homelessness Monitor includes a survey sent to England’s 326 local authorities which received responses from 148.
The researchers found that suspending evictions along with other temporary measures led to no immediate rise in the numbers of people seeking support from their local authority because they were either at risk of or experiencing, homelessness.
But Crisis said that with Local Housing Allowance rates set to be re-frozen again in April, the poorest households across England could be locked out of the private rented sector and forced into homelessness.
Post-lockdown, 94% of councils said they expect to see an increase in people made homeless after being evicted from the private rented sector.
Some 94% of councils also expect to see an increase in newly unemployed people made homeless by the pandemic.
The report found also that on any given night 200,000 people in England are experiencing the worst forms of homelessness, including sleeping rough, sofa surfing and stuck in unsuitable accommodation like B&Bs.
Without sufficient Government intervention, that number could rise by 27% over the next ten years, the charity said.
A Government spokesperson said: “We are pleased councils recognise the unprecedented action we have taken to support the most vulnerable people in our society during the pandemic, backed by over £700 million to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping this year alone and a further £750 million next year.
“We’ve put households at the heart of our decision-making throughout the pandemic, with a £280 billion package keeping millions in work, temporarily bolstering the welfare safety net by more than £1,000 a year for families, and longer notice periods and a ban on evictions to help renters.
“We’re also investing over £12 billion over five years, the largest investment in a decade, to provide up to 180,000 new homes – with half for affordable and social rent.”