The names of dozens of people whose lives were cut short by homelessness in the last year, were read out at the annual Commemoration Service at St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square.
This year's service on Thursday, 9 November included songs from people with experience of homelessness in 'The Choir with No Name' and 'Streetwise Opera'. A beautiful new composition 'Here I am' by Alastair Murray was sung in between the recitations of names and prayers. As members of the congregation lined up to receive a memorial card with the name of someone who died, there was also a moving performance of composer Gavin Bryars' classic: 'Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet' - this day also marked Gavin's 80th birthday.
As the cost of living crisis continues to push people to the edge, more and more people are experiencing homelessness. Data shows that 4,068 people were recorded as sleeping rough in the capital between July and September this year, a 12% increase on the same period in 2022. This, combined with the extreme weather events of the summer and the incoming harsh winter, means it could be an increasingly deadly year for people sleeping rough.
We know homelessness is very bad for you. People living on the streets often have long-term conditions and poor physical health which means that they are at a greater risk should they become ill. Shockingly, someone experiencing homelessness dies every 6.5 hours in the UK on average.
The Bishop of Willesden, Rt Revd Lusa Nsenga-Ngoy, gave a reflection. Rev Richard Carter who led the service commented: "This service is one of the most important services that we hold at St Martin's each year. Usually we remember one person who died but at this service we will be remembering more than 80.
"Our aim is to give those who died recognition, dignity and peace at the last - and to give thanks for their lives. We also remember the struggles that so many faced to find a place of safety and home. The average age of the people whose names we have read out today is 50 - in one of the richest cities in the world. As the economic situation worsens it is the poorest who will suffer most."
Kathy Mohan OBE, Chief Executive of Housing Justice said: "The Service of Commemoration is a poignant reminder of the life-limiting nature of homelessness and the impact it has on both physical and mental health, and life expectancy. Our thoughts and prayers are with those we remember with love and dignity today, and we are privileged to be involved in this important event again this year."
Pam Orchard, Chief Executive of The Connection said: "It's incredibly important that we take time to remember and honour those who have died on the streets. It is appalling that people experiencing homelessness have such a low life expectancy in one of the richest countries in the world. Having a safe and secure home is a basic human need, but far too many people are going without.
However, remembering those who have died is not enough. We know it is possible to provide safe accommodation for everyone who needs it, and with the right support in place people can recover from the trauma of homelessness and go on to live long, healthy lives. We call on the government to do what is necessary to ensure this is the reality for everyone."
Pavel, one of the people who attended the service told ICN: "I lived on the streets for a few months. I wouldn't be alive if it wasn't for the help I received from one of the organisations here. It so important to be here. For some of the people whose names have been read out - this is the only funeral service they will have."
Watch a recording of the service: https://stmartins.digital/a-service-of-commemoration-for-those-who-have-died-homeless/
Housing Justice: https://mailchi.mp/housingjustice.org.uk
Museum of Homelessness: https://dying-homeless.museumofhomelessness.org/