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More than 200 homeless people died in Toronto last year

Amy, who is homeless and lost her place in a shelter two days ago, is pictured in a doorway Toronto on Monday January 10, 2022, as the city issued a cold weather alert. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young Amy, who is homeless and lost her place in a shelter two days ago, is pictured in a doorway Toronto on Monday January 10, 2022, as the city issued a cold weather alert. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

New data reveals 216 people experiencing homelessness died in Toronto last year – a 50 per cent increase from the previous year.

Each week, that translates to on average 4.2 lives lost in Toronto’s homeless community, according to Toronto Public Health’s (TPH) annual data release

“The city is deeply saddened by all deaths of people experiencing homelessness,” TPH media relations person Anthony Toderian told CTV News Toronto.

Since the data collection began in 2017, the number of homeless deaths has more than doubled in Toronto. The data is pulled from 250 agencies that support people experiencing homelessness, including shelters where 132 of the deaths took place.

“It’s just a crushing number,” Doug Johnson Hatlem, a street pastor at Sanctuary Toronto, said. “It’s not being treated as the massive crisis that it should be.”

The city data reveals 55 per cent of the reported deaths were due to drug toxicity, which TPH says has been exacerbated by the pandemic on a national scale and has led to calls for the expansion of safer supply programs, both province and city-wide.

Johnson Hatlem pointed to the layers of crises encompassed in this “stunning figure” for homeless people in Toronto – the growing population, the pandemic as a whole, the wide gap in vaccination rates, overall access to health-care and the unattainability of housing.

“It just feels like there is no hope,” Johnson Hatlem said. “They are never going to be treated well. They are never going to have equal access to housing.”

TPH acknowledged the role housing plays in the health and wellness of those experiencing homelessness. “The real solution to improved health outcomes is permanent housing with supports,” Toderian said.

By the end of the year, he said the city is aiming to create more than 3,000 new affordable housing opportunities.

Looking at the data, Johnson Hatlem points to a surge seen in the second half of 2021 following the clearing of city encampments.

“We see the results in the radical increase in deaths, not just in 2021 as a whole, but particularly in the second half of 2021,” Johnson Hatlem said. In the first half of the year, 95 deaths were recorded. In the second half, there were 117.

“It’s just a really substantial number and I think that people not being able to be together in community and take care of each other. That was always a constant theme from the residents themselves,” Johnson Hatlem said.

As a nearly decade-long member of Toronto’s homeless community, Gru, who chose not to include his surname, echoed the loss of community as a significant factor in the rising death count.

“One of the big drivers of this 50 per cent increase is the fact that all of a sudden, everyone has been put into these isolation units,” Gru said, referencing individual living spaces like his own at shelter hotels.

“For a lot of people who had found community in the encampment, when we were scattered to the wind, all of a sudden they lost that.” he added. “That leads to an increase in overdose deaths.”

At least once a day, Gru refreshes the City’s data on people experiencing homelessness – whether that’s shelter capacity or deaths that took place at shelters. “I can look through it for myself and get an idea of the struggle my community is going through,” he said.

Leading up to this recent data release, he was expecting to see more than 216 deaths reported last year.

“It’s one in 44 people in the community dead in a single year,” Gru said. “I was expecting one in 40.”

Lorie Steer, vice-president of urban health and homelessness services at Neighbourhood Group Community Services, had also anticipated a larger figure.

“I think the number is probably much higher,” she said.

“There has been a lot of discussion around how people’s health has really deteriorated over the pandemic,” Steer said. “These impacts have also impacted the homeless population but to a much greater degree.” Top Stories

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