Deaths among homeless people in B.C. jumped significantly in 2021 compared to the year prior, and that increase was also seen in Kelowna.
A Coroners Service report released Wednesday shows 247 people experiencing homelessness died across B.C. in 2021, a 75% increase from the 141 who died in 2020. This is also more than double the average number of homeless deaths recorded in the province between 2012 and 2021.
Forty-four of the deaths occurred within the Interior Health region.
In Kelowna, there were 11 deaths among homeless people in 2021, up from five the year prior. Between 2012 and 2021, Kelowna had an average of 5.4. Five of the deaths occurred in Kamloops, down from eight the year prior.
Data from other Interior municipalities was not included.
The vast majority of the deaths in B.C., at least 79% of them, were due to the province's toxic illicit drug supply.
“The data is a stark reminder of the devastating impacts of the toxic drug crisis on people in B.C., compounded by the daily risks and health challenges faced by people experiencing homelessness,” said Murray Rankin, Minister Responsible for Housing, and Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions,in a joint statement.
“We are working on all fronts to turn the tide on this crisis, including expanding treatment services and harm reduction measures like drug checking and prescribed safer supply, including for people experiencing homelessness.”
In the report, the Coroners Service defines an individual experiencing homelessness as “a person living outdoors, in a make-shift shelter, a parked vehicle, or any other structure not intended for habitation,” or a person staying at shelter or temporarily with friends or family, temporary modular housing, safe house for youth, or transition house for women and children fleeing violence.
Deaths included in the report include all "non-natural deaths and all sudden and unexpected deaths."
Of the deaths across B.C., 50% were defined as “street homeless,” while 33% were defined as “sheltered homeless.” More than 83% of the deaths were among men.
“We thank the coroner for this new data that will help inform our ongoing work to confront the toxic drug and housing crises from every angle,” the ministers said in their statement.
“We would also like to extend our heartfelt appreciation to the front-line workers who are doing all they can each day to help people who are homeless to get the supports they need. We will continue to accelerate housing construction and expand the services and supports people need to save lives and help everyone find a safe and secure place to call home.”