Overdoses and illness responsible for high mortality in BCs homeless

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone to learn homelessness is a big problem in our province.

Not only is it often visible as is the case in our own downtown core and other infamous locations such as East Vancouver, but these examples serve as the tip of a much larger iceberg with thousands of people living less conspicuously on our streets, couch surfing or dangling on the verge of homelessness across the province.

In past articles I have talked about the elevated rates of mental illness and addiction among our homeless population and have also discussed the importance of improving socioeconomic factors such as housing, nutrition and safety in order to achieve and maintain mental health.

Once again these facts were highlighted when I read about a report released this year by the BC coroner’s office. According to their statistics, overdoses and chronic illness are responsible for half the deaths among BC homeless over the past two years.

This report examined the deaths of 56 individuals who had been living on the street or in shelters in our province. Twenty seven died of the above mentioned causes with others dying by homicide, accidental deaths and suicide (which is almost always related to a chronic mental illness).

Homeless people die much younger than those in the general population with the average age of death ranging from 41 to 48 according to various studies. In addition, most studies estimate the homeless die at three or four times the rate of the general population of similar age.

These rates occur largely because chronic health problems such as drug use, infection, mental illness, or other disease are difficult if not impossible to manage appropriately while living on the streets.

Obviously, affordable housing is a huge need for this population. Simply housing people can go a long way toward helping them gain stability, health and increased longevity. But housing isn’t all that is required.

Many community supports are necessary to help a vulnerable population deal with obstacles which put them on the street in the first place. Often this will include addiction treatment, medical care, counselling, life and job skills training, education and more.

I still believe that providing the necessary housing and supports would not only vastly improve and save the lives of many in our province, but would also be cost effective in the long run.

We shouldn’t underestimate the enormous cost of the current homeless situation on emergency services, crisis health care, law enforcement and the judicial system.

It’s time we stop looking the other way when it comes to the homeless in our communities. We need to support existing charitable organizations as they provide important services and we need to ask governments at all levels what solutions they have to alleviate the incredible human and economic cost of poverty.


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