March 29, 2016 5:15 pm
Updated: March 29, 2016 11:17 pm

‘Homelessness is an early death sentence’: Advocacy group

WATCH: Anti-poverty activists say homelessness is an early death sentence. Linda Aylesworth tells us what they claim is causing a spike in the death rate among the homeless.

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“The lack of safe and affordable housing across British Columbia is putting homeless people at grave risk,” says Sean Condon executive director of Megaphone.

Condon’s comment is in response to a new report that found at least 46 homeless people died in the province in 2014; which is a 70 per cent increase from the year before.

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The report, Still Dying on the Street, uses the most recent data from the BC Coroners Service. Condon said it is important to note that the number of deaths is an “under count” and according to the coroners service, the true number is almost twice as high.

“The best way to prevent homeless deaths is to end homelessness, both street and shelter,” Condon said. “All levels of government need to work in coordination to create the social and affordable housing needed to address this crisis.”

According to the report, homeless people are dying at a much earlier age – between 40 and 49 years old – in comparison to the rest of the population; which has an average age of death at 76.4 years and a life expectancy of 82.92 years of age.

Anita Hauck was 44 years old when she died in September 2015. Last year she was the spokesperson for the homeless tent city in Maple Ridge. She died after getting stuck in a clothing donation bin, trying to get a jacket and blanket for a fellow homeless person, who was struggling to keep warm.

“What happened to her should not have happened but it did and she tried to let people know that the homeless people are humans,” Anita’s mother, Loretta Sundstrom said.

“They are not invisible and we need to do something to try to stop it.”

The report also indicates that homeless deaths are largely preventable and that those people who are living on the streets are three times as likely to die accidentally and twice as likely to die by homicide and suicide.

“Homelessness is an early death sentence,” says Condon.

“These deaths were tragic and unnecessary. They could have been prevented had safe and secure housing and supports been available to these individuals.”

Issues around homelessness in B.C. and the Lower Mainland have been in the foreground with recent stories about an 82-year-old cancer survivor having to live in a homeless shelter while she recuperated from surgery; the province evicted homeless campers in Victoria and residents in Maple Ridge were opposing the government’s decision to put a homeless shelter in a former Quality Inn hotel.

Other key findings in the report include 15.6 per cent of all reported homeless deaths are Aboriginal people, despite making up just 5.4 per cent of the general population and 14 homeless people died in the Fraser region in 2014, which is a 100 per cent increase from 2013.

The high cost of housing, the lack of affordable housing and the lack of strong social and health supports is what has lead to this crisis and the increase in homeless deaths, according to Condon.

With housing costs and illicit drug overdose deaths continuing to rise in B.C., Megaphone said it expects homeless deaths will continue to increase unless all levels of government commit to provide more housing and health supports.

The advocacy group is now calling for all levels of government to take immediate action to end homelessness.

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