photos: Ahmad Kavousian

Dying on the Streets: Homeless deaths in British Columbia

Homelessness can be fatal, yet deaths associated with being homeless are largely preventable, according to the first ever report examining homeless deaths in British Columbia.

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The report, published today by Megaphone and entitled ‘Dying on the Streets,’ compiles data provided by the BC Coroners Service between 2006 and 2013. At least 281 homeless people died in British Columbia during that time, a number that is likely significantly higher due to gaps in reporting.

Read the report here.


The report found that the median age of death of death for a homeless person in B.C. is between 40 and 49 years, almost half the life expectancy of 82.65 years of the average British Columbian. In addition, accidental deaths accounted for 47% of all homeless deaths in the province, more than double the 18.3% of deaths among the general population.


“The number of deaths among our homeless population is deeply disturbing in part because they are preventable,” says Sean Condon, author of the report and executive director of Megaphone. “Homelessness in this province is equivalent to a death sentence, but it doesn’t have to be. All levels of government must take responsibility to end homelessness, otherwise our most vulnerable citizens will continue to die.”


The total number of homeless deaths in the province is considered an undercount because of several gaps in the way BC Coroners Service tracks the deaths, as highlighted in the report. Its narrow definition of homelessness, for example, does not include vulnerably housed people, those transitioning between housing and living on the street, and those already under hospital care.


Other gaps in reporting mean a clear understanding of the state of homelessness in B.C. still isn’t available. For example, the BC Coroners Service stopped reporting Aboriginal homeless deaths after 2007, the year they reported that Aboriginal people are overrepresented among homeless deaths, accounting for 14.3% deaths but just 5% of the province’s total population.


“Homelessness kills people,” says Judy Graves, the former City of Vancouver homeless advocate. “Having a safe place to live indoors is considered a ‘determinant of health’ by the World Health Organization. That means, without safe housing a person cannot hope to live out their expected life span. We all need the protection from the elements, safety from predators, and the predictability that a real home provides, no matter how small or simple.”


It is estimated there are up to 15,500 people who are homeless in British Columbia, which means thousands of people in the province are at risk of premature but preventable death. In 2010, 55-year-old homeless man Thomas Sawyer died from internal injuries in a downtown Vancouver alley under what police called “suspicious circumstances”.


“My brother never should have died alone in an alley,” says Doug Sawyer. “What he needed wasn’t a welfare cheque but safe housing. If he had that, he would still be alive today.”


A full copy of the report is available here.


A summary of the recommendations is available here.


Figures from the report are available for download here.


A profile of Tom Sawyer is available here.


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For more information or to schedule interviews, please contact:

Sean Condon
Executive Director, Megaphone
604-255-9701 x 137
[email protected]  

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  • Jen Beet
    commented 2018-06-10 14:07:04 -0700
    In Victoria BC I’ve watched the homeless population grow and grow each year. The news here likes to complain about them putting up “tent cities” and never do they tell us about how bad their death rate is. I commend you for putting this information out there. A lot of fools choose to be homeless but as a window cleaner who often works in busy streets downtown face to face with homeless people I can assure you that most of them would change their situation in a heartbeat if only a hand was hanging down to help them up. I make this as an offer as a proud business offer that if any homeless person reading this would like employment cleaning windows I’d be willing to give your hand a try. Contact me through and let’s make things happen. Again, much love and respect to Megaphone Magazine for putting the truth out there! I’ll be sharing this on my Facebook now!

    One love!
  • Michael Ernst
    commented 2016-03-03 08:31:11 -0800
    I’ve just became homeless,yesterday.and like a lot of people it came down to the cost of my rent.I’m presently disabled, because of some physical issues,hopefully I will get these in check soon.I’m from a small town in Nova Scotia,and even there homelessness has become even an all to familare problem. So don’t think know it’s a big city issue only,as with Vancouver,the little town of Chester has become even a real estate Hotspot if you will. Foreign investors are fueling this problem,seem so crazy to have all these vacant homes just sitting get there,sad state of affairs when all you have to do to basically double your investment amount is …“wait” and the value will the mean time people are freezing get to death because they have no shelter. It’s a sad state of affairs when money has become more important than a life of a Canada in citizen.
  • Sean Condon
    published this page in Magazine articles 2014-11-05 16:49:46 -0800
  • Sean Condon
    published this page in Magazine articles 2014-11-05 16:31:34 -0800
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