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.
Dying on the Streets: Homeless deaths in British Columbia
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.
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:
Executive Director, Megaphone
604-255-9701 x 137
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