Toronto homeless shelters report highest number of deaths in 2020

Published On June 22, 2021 | By Shifa Naseer | News

There have been 377 reported deaths in Toronto homeless shelters in the past decade, according to the data collected by the Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA).

The highest number of deaths occurred in 2020 with 73 deaths, with an average age of 50.8 years. The second-highest number of reported deaths was recorded in 2019 with 48 and an average age of 54.3 years.

“The recent increase in deaths in the shelter system is related to the substantial rise in fatal opioid overdoses and related shelter deaths, which has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Kris Scheuer, spokesperson for SSHA, in an email interview.

Toronto’s shelter system admitted 25,764 people in 2019, according to the government website. The city provides more than 7,000 emergency and transitional beds in 63 locations.

Homelessness is a significant issue in Toronto, affecting some of the city’s most vulnerable residents and contributing to health inequities, Scheuer said. People experiencing homelessness in Toronto are at increased risk of premature deaths and suffer a higher incidence of chronic and acute health problems, she said.

The average number of violent incidents increased to approximately 11.5 per day in 2021 from 3.3 per day in 2016, Scheuer said.

“This increase in reported incidents is likely explained by several factors, including both improved incident reporting and an increase in actual incidents,” she said.

“This trend began prior to 2020 and is therefore not directly attributable to the pandemic,” Scheuer said.

The city has responded to the violence in the shelter system to ensure the safety of clients and staff, Scheuer said.

“This includes increased training for shelter staff, including de-escalation, mental health, and harm reduction, working closely with healthcare partners, and providing additional funding to bring additional supports into the shelter system,” she said.

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