Mon. May 23rd, 2022

BC Coroners Service is expected to update the report on homeless deaths across the province within the next month

The number of people who have died in Vancouver over the past five years without “no fixed address” was a total of 225, according to data from the Vancouver Police Department.

The deaths, which occurred between 2017 and 2021, were recorded by police as they participated in “sudden death” calls in the city.

It is a category that includes overdoses, suicides, work accidents and people who die of natural causes.

The data provided to Vancouver is amazing did not include a breakdown of each death with “no fixed address” or details of how the person died, where the person died or their gender or age.

The cause of death is determined by BC Coroners Service.

Most deaths in the five-year period occurred last year, with 65 registered. That was an increase of 19 people from the 46 who died in 2020. A total of 33 died in 2019, 47 in 2018 and 34 in 2017.

VPDTaniaVisintin
Vancouver Police Department. Tania Visintin, a media manager. Fil Dan Toulgoet

Art. Tania Visintin, a VPD media relations officer, said police are involved in sudden death calls to determine if there is unfair play, and to gather other information related to how and why the person died.

“A lot of it is cumbersome,” Visintin said when asked what types of sudden death calls police regularly attend. “While the majority of sudden death investigations will be of a non-criminal nature, officers are always aware, that a sudden death can later become a crime scene. “

Visintin did not want to speculate on the causes of death for the 225 people, but acknowledged that the overdose crisis in Vancouver and across the province has left many vulnerable citizens dead, including some who lived in the now defunct Oppenheimer and Strathcona Park homeless camps.

Police are also involved in sudden deaths in single-room buildings, or SROs, where tenants and guests from tenants without “no fixed address” have died of an overdose.

Data collected by police between February 2017 and September 5, 2021 revealed that 50 percent of suspected overdose deaths in the city occurred in SROs and in other low-income housing.

419 overdose deaths in Vancouver

Coroners Service’s latest data on illegal drug deaths in BC showed that 1,782 people died from an overdose in the province between January and October last year, with 419 registered in Vancouver.

Coroners Service last published a report on homeless deaths across the province four years ago, with an updated version expected within the next month, according to Ryan Panton, head of strategic communications and media relations for Coroners Service.

The 2019 report, which summarized deaths between 2007 and 2016, said an average of 55 homeless people a year died in BC, with 175 deaths in 2016 being the worst year ever; there were 73 admitted in 2015.

Homeless Deaths Screen
Homeless deaths in BC registered between 2007 and 2016. Image lent by BC Coroners Service

In Vancouver, 43 homeless people died in 2016, nearly tripling from the highest level in nine years in 15, recorded in 2008, according to the agency, which concluded that 56 percent of all homeless deaths in BC were considered unintentional, where 72 percent involved drugs alcohol or both.

Deceased were included in the calculations if “no fixed address” was given as the home address, or if the person died at a homeless home, or if “the circumstances of death indicated homelessness”, according to the report, which included persons found dead in parked vehicles.

The report warned that it is not always possible to determine a person’s housing status.

“As such, data may be underreported,” the report said.

Public health distress

The data in both Coroner’s Service Reports, which provide the most telling insight into the rising number of homeless and drug deaths, is what was recorded in 2016.

That is, when 86 percent of deaths are accidental and 53 percent of all deaths are due to “accidental drug and / or alcohol intoxication.”

In the period between 2007 and 2015, the same category accounted for 63 percent of accidental deaths and 34 percent of all deaths on average.

That was also in 2016, when Vancouver and other cities in BC experienced significant increases in overdose deaths, with Vancouver rising from 138 in 2015 to 231 in 2016. Surrey rose from 76 to 118, and Victoria went from 23 to 68.

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Overdose deaths in Vancouver reached 419 in Vancouver between January and October 2021. File photo Dan Toulgoet

All three cities have experienced that their death toll has almost doubled since 2016, the year when the then provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall declared a public health emergency – and two years before the Insite-monitored injection site at East Hastings detected an unusually high number of overdoses.

At the time, Vancouver police were driving a sample of the drug used in the Insite area to a Health Canada lab and found the presence of fentanyl, which has been linked to more than 80 percent of overdose deaths in BC.

‘No excuse for not doing so’

COPE count. Jean Swanson, whose focus in her first term at City Hall has been pushing for more housing and services for the homeless, said Monday she was not surprised by the number of homeless people who have died in Vancouver in the past five years.

Swanson pointed to pandemic-triggered public health orders related to physical distance, strict policies without guest in SROs, and less space in shelters combined with a toxic drug supply as likely causes of the death toll.

She said police data serves as yet another reminder that there is not enough housing for low-income people, especially those living with a mental illness or who are severely addicted to drugs or both.

“We need secure supply, we need housing, and governments have no excuse for not doing so,” she said.

A note from City Hall staff to the council in November suggested that the number of homeless people in Vancouver “remains the same or may even have increased” since March 2020, when volunteers counted 1,548 people living in some form of shelter and 547 on the streets.

Some other findings from Coroners Service’s report on homeless deaths in 2019:

• Of the deceased, 53 percent met the criteria for “street homelessness” and 36 percent for protected homelessness. Men were more likely than women to meet the criteria for street homelessness (55 percent versus 40 percent).

• Overall, 85 percent of the men were dead. The proportion of women decreased with age. The highest proportion of women was in the age group 30 to 39 years (27 per cent), and the lowest in the age group over 60 years.

• In total, 54 percent of the deceased were aged 40 to 59 years.

• Deaths occurred more frequently in the later months of the year. From August to December, the average number of deaths per month was 60. From January to July, it was 36.

• Together, Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health accounted for 59 percent of deaths from 2007 to 2016.

mhowell@glaciermedia.ca

@Howellings

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