It’s an alarming trend to hit B.C.’s streets – a shocking spike in the number of homeless deaths across the province.
According to a new report from Megaphone Magazine, the number of deaths in 2014 (the last year for which stats are available) jumped by 70%, up to 46 people.
It’s a number that’s both shocking, and yet unsurprising according to homeless advocates.
Today Sean Condon with Megaphone Magazine and Judy Graves, former homeless advocate for the City of Vancouver joined Lynda Steele to unpack the results.
LISTEN: Breaking down the spike in homeless deaths
Condon says the numbers were hard to see, particularly since the homeless count had been on the decrease until then. But he says they were expected – and most likely represent only half of the true number of deaths based on what he’s heard from front line workers.
He says the rising number of overdoses, coupled with the rising cost of housing are working together to take more lives on the street.
It’s a concern Graves echoes.
“Because there is nothing affordable for people to rent anymore. And for the most part building is only done for the very wealthy, and everybody in Metro Vancouver- really from Powell River to the American border- is being forced down in their housing expectations… and some people fall out the bottom.”
Not just Vancouver
While we tend to focus plenty of attention on the cost of housing in Vancouver, Condon says the stats show the problem is spreading much farther than the city.
He says the biggest jump in deaths was in the Fraser region; 14 people, double the deaths in 2013.
“When we talk to people who are working in that region they say they’re really struggling to find housing for people, that they’re seeing more people camp out in parks, and tent cities. And that they just don’t have the resources available.”
He says the stats show the homeless in these cities are usually locals who have been forced into the streets, like Anita Hauck who died after becoming trapped in a clothing donation bin – she’d been a Maple Ridge resident for 10 years.
Call for action
Graves says the decision to pull the plug on a potential housing project at a former Quality Inn in Maple Ridge is particularly distressing in the wake of the report.
She says finding places that can be converted quickly to housing is hard, and that she fears the change will mean another winter on the street for the region’s homeless.
“Every time you try and open housing for the very poor, neighbourhoods will come forward and say “on no, this is not the right place, we’re special, we shouldn’t live near poor people.”
She says action is needed now, with a partnership between all three levels of government – and probably private money too.
Condon adds that the $2.3 bn in new federal money for housing is a start, but is just a drop in the bucket.
And he says while building new housing always sound expensive – in reality, it usually comes in at about half the price to the system as leaving people on the street.