Soaring poverty and the scourge of drugs and alcohol have racked up a devastating body count on the streets of Blackpool.
An estimated 17 homeless people died in Blackpool in the past six years, figures from Office of National Statistics show.
There were five confirmed deaths last year alone – although experts believe the true figure could be around seven.
These included Trudy McGregor, 50, who was found unresponsive on Talbot Road in the early hours of June 30, and David Massey, 49, who was found slumped in a shop doorway on Deansgate, Blackpool, by a passer-by on July 7.
Miss McGregor died from a combination of painkillers and alcohol, while Mr Massey, who was found with a bottle of vodka by his side, died from acute respiratory failure caused by sudden inflammation of the pancreas due to alcohol toxicity.
Mark Butcher, founder of the Amazing Graze soup kitchen, said: “The issue that we have got is because we have a very high transient population. We have around 8,000 coming in every year, so we are getting everyone else’s homeless population.
“The council has a local connections policy, and individuals with no local connections get left on the streets or come to us.
“I think that’s one of the reasons the mortality is so high - we get everyone else’s homeless problem.
“I wish I could disagree that most of the deaths are drugs-related but I can’t. Last night I was out in Blackpool and I met 20 individuals over three hours who probably all had got drugs problems, including alcohol.”
In Blackpool, the mortality rate for homeless people is 65.9 deaths per million population – significantly higher than the 16.7 per cent average across England and Wales.
Nationally, some 726 homeless people died in 2018 – up 22 per cent from the previous year - marking the biggest annual rise in homeless deaths since records began.
Drug-related deaths also increased sharply last year.
Mark said: “Most of the individuals who end up homeless end up so because of poverty. They fall behind with their rents and end up on the streets, and that’s where they get the drug problem.
“It’s cheap to get stoned on spice and get out of it for four hours and get warm.
“We’re getting to the point where we are putting people into accommodation clean and sober and they are getting drugs from some of the residents there.
“Poverty is rising. We’re getting more families turning up at the soup kitchen than ever before. People with four or three kids ask for food because they can’t cook because they’ve got no electricity. We have seen a massive increase at the food bank.”
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, the UK national charity for homeless people, said: “It is heart-breaking that hundreds of people were forced to spend the last days of their lives without the dignity of a secure home.
“This is now the second year running where we have known the true scale of the human cost of homelessness, yet still the lessons from these tragic deaths go unlearnt.
“It’s crucial that the Government urgently expand the safeguarding system used to investigate the deaths of vulnerable adults to include everyone who has died while street homeless, so we can help prevent more people from dying needlessly.
“Because in this day and age, there is no excuse for anyone dying without a safe place to call home.”
A Government spokesman said: “Every single death on our streets is one too many and these statistics are a sombre reminder that there is still much more to do to tackle homelessness and end rough sleeping for good.
“Drugs can devastate lives, ruin families and damage communities, which is why we are undertaking a comprehensive review which will help protect the most vulnerable – including homeless individuals – from the harms that drugs cause and give them a chance to recover and turn their lives around.”