Homeless Londoners are dying at an unprecedented rate of one person a week this year, with the total number of deaths so far already 50 per cent higher than all of last year.
With three more deaths so far this November, it appears the year’s toll could top 50, homeless advocates say.
“It feels relentless,” Andrea Sereda, family physician at London InterCommunity Health Centre, said. “I hear consistently from patients, ‘Everyone I know is dead. All of my friends are dead. I know more dead people than living people.’ ”
Not enough housing, precarious work, inadequate social assistance, unsafe supplies of drugs and pandemic restrictions – even though they are easing – are all factors in the increase, frontline workers say.
“Every area of life has gotten harder for people who are impoverished. People who have been impoverished are finding it longer to get out, if it’s even possible,” Sanctuary London outreach worker Dan Oudshoorn said.
The death toll has the homeless community – both those living with homelessness and those trying to help – reeling and exhausted.
Allison DeBlaire, with the outreach organization 519 Pursuit, often hears about those deaths directly from people on the street who have lost friends.
“They have to keep going,” she said. “There’s definitely not enough time for our friends to grieve these losses, to really understand what the losses mean, and to be in a safe space to grieve.”
When people on the street lose friends that are like family members, it can hollow out their on-the ground support systems, DeBlaire said.
She reports rising mental health issues, including an increase in suicidal ideation, among the folks in contact with 519 Pursuit. Besides the deaths and barriers to getting help, people are constantly being pushed from place to place, she said.
“The language and the messaging from folks that are telling them to move on – that they’re trespassing or (not wanted) – that out-of-sight, out-of-mind language is really affecting the mental health of the person within, trying to build themselves back up from the position they’re in,” DeBlaire said.
“How do they want to work toward being a part of our community again if people are saying, ‘As long as we don’t know about you or see you, you’re good’?”
The exhaustion for frontline workers comes not only from the sheer number of people gone, Sereda said.
“It also comes from not seeing any good solutions on the horizon. It’s not like we’re pushing through and in three months we’re going to get everyone inside. There isn’t change on horizon to make us feel like it’s going to stop.”
About 15 organizations in London try to track and share information about the deaths of people living on the street or shelters or couch surfing, and those who’ve been homeless most of their adult lives.
“It’s not a scientific survey of every death in London for people living in homelessness, and yet it is still a sampling of people who are known to us,” Sereda said.
The causes are suspected but not always confirmed, with many of the deaths likely from overdoses and medical problems caused by living on the street, advocates say.
Many of the solutions to preventing most deaths are well known, Sereda said.
People trying to survive without shelter are exposed to the elements, infections and disease, and tend to use more substances and more unsafe substances, she said.
“We need to bring people inside,” Sereda said. “Our team, we feel like we’ve hit a wall in how much we can improve people’s health and keep them safe from the street drug supply while they’re outside. Medical care can only go so far when somebody is living on the sidewalk.”
Sereda also runs a safe drug supply program, but says that program has reached its limit of close to 300 people with more demands for help. She continues to push for federal legislation that allows people to safely use their drug of choice.
“People aren’t dying because of fentanyl per se. People are dying from street-based fentanyl, because they don’t know the percentage of fentanyl in each dose they’re taking.” Fentanyl is an opioid used both in medical settings and on the street.
Sereda would like to see federal legislation that allows people to use their drug of choice safely, just as the LCBO provides safe and known quantities of alcohol.
“The LCBO doesn’t prevent alcoholism but people know what they’re buying and there are safe alcohol consumption areas called bars. We need to provide that rationale for any drugs that humans like to use. It won’t wipe out the problem, but it will mitigate it.”
DeBlaire urged everyone in London to get educated and trained about naloxone that acts as life-saving medication in response to drug overdoses. She said more Londoners should be carrying aloxone kits so they can help in a crisis.
“In the last month, our volunteers have reversed two overdoses, and that’s the first time we’ve needed to use it. It was just being in the right place, at the right time,” DeBlaire said.
“More people in the general public need to be equipped with naloxone and not be fearful of it or carrying it. More people need to understand what an overdose looks like, the difference between someone sleeping on the sidewalk and someone in crisis, in need of help.”
Londoners need to start talking and thinking about why so many people are dying, Oudshoorn said.
“Why did more people die this year than last year? Why did more people die last year than the year before? What does this say about how we are living as a city, how we are sharing life together with others?” he said.
Most Londoners don’t know or care enough about how many people die from homelessness, he said.
“People who are dying are being treated as those they’re disposable. We can just let them keep dying, which is what we’ve been doing for the last few years, even as the rates go up and up.”
City hall has several programs battling homelessness and has put out a request for proposals for three-year outreach and shelter programs, and the housing stability bank.
The city also is preparing to open 61 affordable units in a rapid housing project on Base Line Road, one of several new modular builds intended to house people faster by using pre-fabricated construction materials to speed up the development.
Still, the needs far outpace the availability of subsidized units or housing listed below average market rent.
More than $40 million in federal government funding is jump-starting massive repairs to public housing complexes in London and area, with another $28.5 million coming from city hall.
The work will repair or refresh more than 60 per cent of the units run by the London Middlesex Community Housing with work to be completed by December 2027.
But there more than 6,000 households on a waiting list for public housing in London.
Original Article: https://lfpress.com/news/local-news/it-feels-relentless-homeless-dying-at-rate-of-one-person-a-week-in-london-advocates-say