ON THURSDAY (March 21) the BC Coroners Service released updated statistics on deaths among homeless individuals, in British Columbia, to the end of December 2016. Those who died included homeless persons living outdoors, sheltered homeless and individuals residing in short-term shelters, safe-house or transition-house accommodation for an unknown length of time.
In what I would call basic technical terms, the report summarized all deaths between 2007 and 2016 where the deceased met the B.C. Coroners Service definition of homeless. Reportable deaths include all non-natural deaths, and all sudden and unexpected deaths where an individual was not under the care of a physician.
These people weren’t just deceased individuals, or reportable deaths. In most cases they were people who had slipped through the gaping cracks in a system that was not set up to provide care in facilities designed to help those addicted – those homeless – those suffering from severe mental health issues – and numerous other problems.
Among key findings of the report was the fact that in 2016, 175 homeless individuals died in B.C. – an increase of 140% over deaths recorded in 2015 (that would indicate 73 deaths then for the year 2015).
In those two years alone, 248 deaths were recorded. Sadly, ninety-three (93) of accidental deaths (86%), and over half (53%) of all deaths were attributed to unintentional drug and / or alcohol poisoning.
What the government media release failed to mention, however, was the fact that between 2007 and 2014 there were 550 deaths — or an average of 38 people per year. That’s a 450% increase folks — and that is totally unacceptable.
I do commend however, the current NDP government for taking swift action on creating housing, for the homeless, right across the province. Maple Ridge, Kamloops, Comox Valley, Prince Rupert, Port Alberni, across metro Vancouver, Smithers and other communities have all seen housing created not just for those on low incomes – but also those experiencing homelessness.
For many, though this comes too late. The list of reportable deaths amongst the homeless in Kamloops (where I live), came to 15 men and women. That placed us at #9 on a list we should NOT BE proud to be part of.
Here’s another list we should not be proud of:
There were 1,310 illicit drug overdose deaths with fentanyl detected in 2018. This is a 7% increase over the number of deaths occurring in 2017 (1,223).
That tells me that it’s obvious that telling those addicted to drugs “we love you, be safe” isn’t cutting it. The ridiculous government posters telling us those who are over-dosing are “Husband, Father, Co-Worker – Friend – etc” – they aren’t reaching those who need to be reached either. And seriously, what impact do they have? NONE, in my opinion.
It’s not reaching those most seriously impacted; the homeless and those with no safe shelter from the elements, those who have given up on any hope of a better life and who have simply given up, and those suffering from mental health issues.
In the past 10 years poisoning from drugs and alcohol have amounted to 72% of all accidental deaths by the homeless – 224 people. Exposure from cold, falling, drowning, fires are also included in that list of causes of accidental deaths.
It’s not hard to see, however, that homelessness, mental health, and drug addictions would ALL contribute those dying.
We need to do better!
Addiction recovery centers …. continuation in building more safe housing … counseling services …. education … building job find skills. These are just a few things on a very long list that must have a better and higher priority for those in government — and typical partisan squabbling had better not be an issue.
That’s how I see things anyway. Agree? Disagree? Have more to add to the conversation? I’d sure love to hear from you so please share your thoughts in the comment section of this blog post.
Alan Forseth is a Kamloops resident and former member of the Reform Party of Canada and the B.C. Reform Party, and a past and current member of the BC Conservative Party. His blog is My Thoughts on Politics and More.