In Toronto, more than three homeless people died on average every week last year, new data shows

From the Toronto Star article

More than three homeless Torontonians died every week last year, new public health data shows — a total of 187 lives lost while battling with housing precarity in Canada’s largest city.

Lives were taken by cancers and cardiovascular diseases, by pneumonia and accidents. More than anything, people died because of toxic drug supply — identified as the cause of 47 per cent of the deaths among the homeless population that were known to public health in 2022.

The new numbers underscore a grim reality — that, if you are homeless in Toronto, your life expectancy is decades less than the general population. For men, Toronto Public Health found the median age of deaths among people facing homelessness last year was 55 years of age, versus 79 years in the overall city population. For women, the median age of deaths amid housing precarity was just 42 years old, versus an overall life expectancy citywide of 84.

And at least three of the deaths last year were people age 19 or younger, the data shows. “The idea that people are dying without housing as teenagers, I think it speaks to structural failures, systemic failures,” said Greg Cook, an outreach worker with Sanctuary Toronto. “For someone to die a preventable death as a teenager I think is really, really unjust — it’s not just tragic.”

Overall, he sees the death toll as evidence of a crisis that has mounted for years, as Toronto’s homeless population has soared to more than 10,800 people. “Everybody should be able to have housing that they feel secure and safe in, and that’s obviously not the case,” he said.

The worst year for homeless deaths in recent memory was 2021, when Toronto set a despairing record of 223 deaths, or more than four a week. While last year had slightly fewer, the toll is still worse than it was in the recent past, with 144 deaths in 2020, 128 in 2019 and 94 in 2018.

With far more deaths owing to overdoses than any other single cause, Cook urged all levels of government to adopt more urgency on addressing the city’s toxic street drug supply. Toronto’s drug checking service, which measures the contents of illicit substances, has warned that almost all their recent samples of fentanyl are mixed with other highly potent opioids like carfentanil as well as benzodiazepine-related drugs.

Harm reduction advocate Zoe Dodd said current responses to Toronto’s drug toxicity have felt like “a patchwork,” and urged mandatory training on prevention and responses in homeless service settings. “It’s devastating, because death brings more death, and grief brings more grief.”

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