Toronto Public Health releases data for homeless people’s deaths in 2022

Syed Azam

Toronto Public Health (TPH) released data on the deaths of people who were homeless in 2022 on March 17. In general, people’s health continues to be negatively impacted by homelessness, with 187 reported deaths in 2022. This number is still higher than the 128 deaths that were reported prior to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019 but lower than the 223 deaths that were reported in 2021.

People who are homeless have a greater chance of dying young. In 2022, men who were homeless died at a median age of 55 years, while women died at a median age of 42 years. For examination, the middle age for everybody in Toronto is 79 years old for guys and 84 years old for females.

In 2022, drug toxicity will be the leading cause of death for homeless people in Toronto, accounting for approximately half of all reported deaths, or 47%. This is slightly lower than the 52% and 59% that were reported in 2021 and 2020, respectively. In 29% of cases, the cause of death is unknown or pending; consequently, when pending coroner reports are received, drug-related deaths may rise. Cardiovascular disease (ten percent), cancer (five percent), accidental injuries (four percent), and suicide (three percent) are the other leading causes of death for homeless individuals.
The following three primary sources of data are used to collect and analyze the data:

The City of Toronto’s Shelter, Support, and Housing Administration (SSHA) division Reports submitted by The Toronto Homeless Memorial A subset of the data included in today’s data release are SSHA numbers on deaths among shelter residents. Participating agencies that serve the homeless and under-housed communities Even though there was a greater demand for shelter services in 2022 than there was in 2021, there has not been a greater number of deaths among people who live in shelters. In point of fact, the number of people who die in shelters has gone down from 132 in 2021 to 110 in 2022. Although the staff of the shelter do not have access to official information regarding the cause of death for the people who use their services, they do, whenever it is at all possible, report a suspected cause of death. These reports indicate that opioid overdose remains the most common suspected cause of shelter residents’ deaths.

Overdoses, both non-fatal and fatal, significantly increased throughout the community and the shelter system during the COVID-19 pandemic. To address opioid-related deaths in Toronto’s shelter system, the Integrated Prevention and Harm Reduction Initiative, or iPHARE, was established in December 2020 as a multi-pronged effort by the City and community organizations.

Since 2021, there has been a decline in overdose deaths. This could be as a result of the City’s shelter system’s harm reduction measures as well as other factors like the unpredictability of the unregulated drug supply and the lack of access to safe supply. This is in line with the findings of the Ontario Office of the Chief Coroner, which show that opioid overdose deaths have decreased in homeless service settings as well.

According to TPH’s 2023 Population Health Profile, Toronto’s drug poisoning crisis is still a pressing public health issue. As outlined in the Toronto Overdose Action Plan, TPH continues to implement the Toronto Drug Strategy by providing harm reduction and treatment services, such as supervised consumption, a drug checking service, and an iOAT program through The Works. TPH is also working with Unity Health and the University Health Network to offer a range of services, from harm reduction programs in the community to hospital-based health care.

TPH continues to collaborate with Health Canada, people who have lived or experienced substance use, and community partners to refine the submission to Health Canada that was made on January 4, 2022 for an exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that would permit the possession of drugs for personal use. TPH supports a public health approach to substance use and harm reduction.

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