City reports that 187 homeless people died last year but hotel strategy seems to be helping

A new Toronto Public Health report on people experiencing homelessness in the city shows 187 reported deaths in 2022 down from 223 in 2021.

According to the report, the median age of death of people experiencing homelessness in 2022 was 55 years of age for males and 42 years of age for females. For comparison, the median age for the general population in Toronto is 79 years of age for males and 84 years of age for females.

A spokesperson for Fred Victor, a social service organization working on behalf of the city’s unhoused, had not yet seen the numbers but theorised that the drop could have to do with the changes made by the city during the pandemic.

“All of the shelters went to half-occupancy, and they opened up a bunch of hotels. We are one of the hotel operators, along with a number of other agencies and those hotels provided a kind of a level of shelter that most people hadn’t experienced before,” says Marie McCormack, of Fred Victor. “Also we saw an escalation around cleaning and hygiene and PPE and just vigilance around all of those things. In these kind of pop-up hotel shelters people had their own washroom, they didn’t have to share. And I think health became a real priority.”

The leading cause of death  for people in the city experiencing homelessness is drug toxicity, which occurred in 47 per cent of reported deaths.

“This is slightly lower than the 52 per cent reported in 2020 and the 59 per cent reported in 2021,” read the report. “The cause of death is unknown or pending in 29 per cent of cases, therefore deaths due to drug toxicity may rise when pending coroner reports are received.”

Other causes of death, according to the report, are as follows: cardiovascular disease (10 per cent), cancer (5 per cent), unintentional injuries (4 per cent) and suicide (3 per cent).

Date for the report was collected from three primary sources:

  • Participating agencies who serve the homeless and under-housed communities
  • The City of Toronto’s Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) division
  • Reports submitted by The Toronto Homeless Memorial

In addition to people experiencing homelessness throughout the city, the report also breaks down the figures to include deaths of shelter residents. The downward trend continued with deaths decreased to 110 in 2022 down from 132 in 2021.

The report indicates downward trend “may be in part due to harm reduction measures implemented in the City’s shelter system, as well as other factors including the unpredictable nature of the unregulated drug supply and lack of access to safe supply.”

During the pandemic, the city leased space in a number of unoccupied hotels, some of which are ongoing, and some are closing such as the Novotel on the Esplanade. With the innovative program showing benefits, perhaps this will result in the city continuing to pursue and even expand it.

One of the midtown hotel/shelters for those experiencing homelessness located at the former Roehampton Hotel was scheduled to close late last year, but had an option to extend the lease to the end of May 2023.

“In some cases they have been handed back to the the operator, such as in case of the Novotel on Front Street, which is going back to the operator and being converted back into other accommodation of hotel or hotel condominium,” McCormack says. “And the residents that were using it as shelter had to be moved out and transitioned back into the community back into existing shelter. They work to find housing for them, in the case of the Bond Hotel, which is being managed by Dickson Hall, that’s being converted into long-term affordable housing. So, each hotel programme is is a little bit different. I think, the city is, wherever possible, looking at whether or not we can we do something with this great solution that we found as a temporary measure.”

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