B.C. sees 70 per cent spike in homeless deaths in 2014: report
The highest number of deaths occurred in the Fraser region, with 14 on record.
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New data suggests there’s been an alarming increase in death among British Columbia’s homeless population.
At least 46 homeless people died in B.C. in 2014, a 70 per cent increase from the year before, according to a report released Tuesday by Megaphone Magazine.
The study, titled Still Dying on the Streets, uses the latest data available from the B.C. Coroners Service.
“The high cost of housing, the lack of affordable housing and a lack of social and health supports have led to the crisis and this increase,” said Sean Condon, Megaphone’s executive director, Tuesday. “This is an undercount. According to the coroners service, the true number is at least twice as high.”
The Fraser region recorded the most homeless deaths of the count, 14, a 100 per cent increase from 2013.
The median age of death for a homeless person in B.C. is between 40 and 49 years of age. The general population’s average is 76.
Other key findings show the majority of those who die in the streets are male, but that women make up a higher percentage of the hidden homeless population, as they face an increased risk of assault and sexual abuse.
Indigenous people remain over-represented.
About 16 per cent of all deaths involved aboriginal people, even though they make up just 5.4 per cent of the general population.
This marginalized sector of society is twice as likely to die by homicide and suicide and three times as likely to die by accidental means (the B.C. Coroners Service classifies drug and alcohol related deaths as accidental). Illicit drug overdose deaths, according to the study, rose 27 per cent in 2015.
Condon called on all levels of government to take immediate action, including the implementation of a poverty reduction strategy and a national housing plan.
Governments, he said, should also commit to building more shelters and social housing, establish more safe injection sites, as well as repeal anti-harm reduction and anti-camping bylaws.
“We are not seeing dollars assigned with a clear goal of ending homelessness in Canada,” said Judy Graves, former City of Vancouver homeless advocate. “There’s money sort of loosely thrown at a problem, and at the same time we’re losing housing. Every time a rooming house is torn down, that is a loss of housing to low income tenants.”
Loretta Sundstrom’s daughter Anita Hauck died last September after climbing inside a clothing donation bin to grab a jacket and blanket for a fellow homeless person. Prior to her death, Hauck was a spokesperson for the homeless tent city on Cliff Avenue in Maple Ridge.
She was a week away from getting into an apartment when she died.
“It was hard for her, but she was always helping other people,” Sundstrom said. “I just want people to know there are decent people out there who are homeless, and you can’t judge a person by the way they look. If she had gotten a place to stay, she could have done anything with her life.”