A man sorts through his possessions behind a fence on Gladys Avenue next to the Salvation Army shelter in Abbotsford.

Coroner called to higher number of homeless deaths

More sudden or suspicious death cases investigated in the region and provincially – actual number likely higher

The number of homeless deaths under investigation by the BC Coroners Service in Abbotsford has gone up, part of a province-wide trend that has seen the death rate almost double.

A recently-issued report by the service, “Reportable Deaths of Homeless Individuals” shows there were five deaths of homeless people in Abbotsford between 2007 and 2014, an average of less than one a year (Mission reported six during the same period).

While there were no official figures for 2015, The News reported two deaths of homeless people in Abbotsford late last year that required investigation by the coroners service.

So far this year, there has been one case in Abbotsford, the March 11 discovery of a man in his mid-40s, found dead in his tent in Lonzo Creek Park.

Nate McCready, the Abbotsford Salvation Army community ministries director, said the people who work with the homeless at the Centre of Hope on Gladys Avenue believe the numbers are likely higher than the coroners report shows.

“I do look at the numbers and think they’re low,” McCready said.

Coroners Service spokesperson Barb McLintock agreed the actual figures are almost certainly higher, mostly because the coroners service is not required to investigate the death of a homeless person who has passed away while under medical care in hospital if the attending doctor doesn’t request an investigation.

One study suggests the number of homeless deaths is double the amount reported by the service, McLintock said.

McCready said some the apparent rise in the mortality appears to be the result of Fentanyl-related overdoses.

Earlier this month, the B.C. government declared its first-ever public health emergency to combat an increase in overdoses, many caused by the potent synthetic opioid, which has been found mixed with heroin, cocaine and even marijuana.

McCready said the rise in the death rate has taken an emotional toll on the homeless community and the people who work with them.

“Its always hard to deal with,” McCready said. “There’s always an emotional price to pay.”

The Coroners Service report shows between 2007 and 2014, the number of homeless deaths under investigation had gone from a high of 50 to a low of 25 before taking a sharp jump from 27 in 2013 to 46 in 2014.

Roughly nine out of 10 cases were men, more than half of them 40 and older.

The most common cause of death, one out of every three cases, was listed as drug or alcohol poisoning .

For the period between 2007 and 2014 Vancouver had the highest number of coroner-investigated deaths of homeless people at 71, followed by Victoria at 40 and Surrey at 23.

Coroner statistics

 

(Causes of homeless deaths)