For Immediate Release: Megaphone renews call for Death Review Panel in light of unprecedented increase in homeless deaths
Vancouver, B.C. March 21, 2019
Today, in the wake of the release of BC Coroners Service data showing another unprecedented increase in the number of homeless deaths, Megaphone renewed its call for a Death Review Panel.
In 2016 (the most recent available data) ,the BC Coroners Service reported 175 deaths of homeless individuals. This is a 140-per-cent increase over the number of deaths in 2015 (73) – both the largest increase year over year and the highest absolute number of homeless deaths on record going back more than a decade. Previously, 2015 had the highest reported number of deaths on record.
According to the BC Coroners Service, in 2016, 86 per cent of accidental deaths and 53 per cent of all homeless deaths resulted from unintentional drug and/or alcohol poisoning. In previous years (2007-2015), this category accounted for 63 per cent of accidental deaths and 34 per cent of all deaths on average. These data are from 2016, the same year the province’s current overdose crisis led to an unprecedented number of deaths and the province’s declaration of a public health emergency. Since then, overdose deaths have increased each year. Given the increasing prevalence of fentanyl and fentanyl-analogues in the illicit drug supply since 2016 (as reported by the BC Coroners Service in its latest overdose deaths report), it is not unrealistic to presume the number of homeless people dying of overdose is even higher in 2017 and 2018.
“People who experience homelessness and also use drugs are disproportionately impacted by the overdose emergency, as they are by so many health and safety issues,” says Jessica Hannon, executive director of Megaphone. “We should know that information. In 2017, Megaphone called for a Death Review Panel into homeless deaths. That call has gone unheeded. Today, in light of this latest report, we renew that call. The urgency should be clear. These latest figures should compel the province to immediately convene a Death Review Panel.”
A Death Review Panel would examine why homeless people are dying at rates that should concern all British Columbians, and make recommendations for how all levels of government must work together to address this emergency. It should bring together people with lived experience, service providers, frontline responders, public health experts, and representatives from all levels of government to make clear and actionable recommendations to reduce the deaths happening in communities across B.C. This would include recommendations on improving access to housing and other necessary services; reducing the risks associated with substance use by making legally regulated drugs available alongside harm reduction, treatment, and recovery services; and steps to eliminate the criminalization of people experiencing homelessness.
Megaphone has issued reports on homeless deaths in B.C. since 2014, and in that time the median age of death for someone experiencing homelessness in B.C. has remained between the ages of 40 and 49 years old, decades earlier than the average age of death of 76.4 years for the general population.
“Where the political will exists, bold action can create life-saving change,” Hannon says. “Homelessness is not some arbitrary force of nature that exists outside of our control; it is directly created by – and can be solved by – the society we create. In honour of our homeless friends and neighbours who have died too soon, we must take urgent action.“
Megaphone offers people experiencing poverty and homelessness products, platforms, and training programs to help them earn a living while advocating for themselves and their communities. Through programming like Megaphone Magazine, the Hope In Shadows Calendar and Megaphone’s Speakers Bureau, Megaphone is working to change the story on homelessness and poverty in our communities.
Jessica Hannon, executive director
Phone or text: 604-341-5005