TORONTO – NEWS – Toronto Public Health (TPH) has released its latest data on deaths among people experiencing homelessness in 2022, revealing that 187 people lost their lives over the course of the year. While this figure represents a decrease from the 223 deaths recorded in 2021, it remains higher than the 128 deaths reported in 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The data also highlights the negative impact of homelessness on health outcomes, with people experiencing homelessness having a median age of death of just 55 years for males and 42 years for females. This is in contrast to the median age of death for the general population in Toronto, which is 79 years for males and 84 years for females.
Drug toxicity was the leading cause of death among people experiencing homelessness in Toronto in 2022, accounting for 47% of reported deaths. This represents a slight decrease from the 52% reported in 2020 and 59% in 2021. However, the cause of death is unknown or pending in 29% of cases, meaning that deaths due to drug toxicity may rise as coroner reports are received. Other leading causes of death among this population include cardiovascular disease (10%), cancer (5%), unintentional injuries (4%) and suicide (3%).
The data is collected from three primary sources: participating agencies that serve the homeless and under-housed communities, the City of Toronto’s Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) division, and reports submitted by The Toronto Homeless Memorial. The subset of data included in the release features numbers from SSHA on deaths among shelter residents. Despite increased demand for shelter services in 2022 compared to the previous year, the number of shelter residents who died actually decreased from 132 in 2021 to 110 in 2022. However, shelter operators do not have access to official cause of death information for their clients, and based on reports, opioid overdose remains the leading suspected cause of death among shelter residents.
To address opioid-related deaths in Toronto’s shelter system, the Integrated Prevention and Harm Reduction Initiative (iPHARE) was established in December 2020. Since its implementation, there has been a decrease in overdose deaths, although the unpredictable nature of the unregulated drug supply and lack of access to safe supply remain ongoing challenges.
TPH continues to implement the Toronto Drug Strategy, which includes providing harm reduction and treatment services as outlined in the Toronto Overdose Action Plan. The organization is also partnering with Unity Health and the University Health Network to provide a continuum of care from community-based harm reduction services to hospital-based health care services. TPH supports a public health approach to substance use and harm reduction and is working with Health Canada, people with lived or living experience of substance use, and community partners to refine the submission to Health Canada made on January 4, 2022, for an exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to allow the possession of drugs for personal use.
The data released by TPH underscores the urgent need to address the drug poisoning crisis in Toronto and highlights the ongoing challenges faced by people experiencing homelessness. TPH remains committed to providing vital services and support to this vulnerable population and working collaboratively with partners to improve health outcomes and reduce harm.