Cause of death: Homelessness

The recent death of 48 year old David Omness in Beacon Hill Park reminds us just how at-risk people experiencing homelessness are. In addition to the daily trials they must face – the challenge of getting meals, a shower and just generally surviving – people experiencing homelessness face serious health issues.

As a society we seem to look for excuses.  We try to find reasons to lay blame … “A bad run of drugs” we might say.  Or we look for a fire, or a particular strain of disease, or we blame it on violence. We try to look for a reason other than homelessness because once we accept that homelessness is killing people it puts the responsibility for those deaths on our shoulders as a society.

The reality is much different. People are dying because they are homeless. We don’t need to look hard for proof of this. Last year well over 30 people died in Greater Victoria who were either homeless or had been recently homeless. And there was no one particular reason for it. Suicides, accidents, some people have died because of drug issues. Some people have died because of violence issues. Some people have died because of health issues. There’s no one particular cause.

People experiencing homelessness or extreme poverty die at increased rates compared to housed people and suffer from illnesses at a higher rate, experience different illnesses (such as TB) and die at a younger age. Constantly being in the cold, wet with few opportunities to get dry, prolonged periods of rain cause severe foot problems, pneumonia, and other serious illnesses. During the summer people experiencing homelessness are exposed to heat exhaustion, sun stroke and dehydration.

It is time to stop looking for excuses and end homelessness. It’s killing people.

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