A University of Victoria advocacy group is asking for a coroner’s inquest into last summer’s increase in deaths among Victoria’s homeless community.
In four months, the Poverty Law Club documented more than 30 deaths among Victoria’s homeless population — three times higher than in previous years, said club spokesman Yianni Pappas-Acreman.
The deaths were linked to a variety of causes, and many were not reported to the Coroners Service because they were due to natural causes.
“The deaths occurred in several different ways, but the root cause is poverty,” Pappas-Acreman said.
“That should be as serious as a death in police custody or an industrial accident. The coroner has the power to look at any class of death that has been reported to them, if it is in the public interest.”
B.C. Coroners Service spokeswoman Barb McLintock said the group raised its concerns several weeks ago. Since then, a file review on all cases that can be tracked down has been started.
It is too early to say whether an inquest is a possibility, McLintock said.
“It would appear that some of these folks had previously been reported to us and had died from a number of causes, including suicides, drug and/or alcohol toxicity and unexpected natural deaths,” she said.
“Others had not previously been reported to us, and it would appear that they died natural deaths while under the care of a physician, which means they do not fit the criteria for investigations under the Coroners Act. However, we will look at them all.”
Another option would be a death review panel that could look at some of the cases, determine common issues and make recommendations, McLintock said.
A poverty-reduction plan for B.C. is long overdue, Pappas-Acreman said, adding that recommendations from the Coroners Service could help kick-start one.
B.C. and Victoria should look for innovative ways to stop the deaths, such as a night drop-in shelter, he said.
“Thirty deaths in such a short period of time should not go ignored in our community.”
Meanwhile, this week, the Coroners Service released its 2011 homeless deaths statistics, which show a drop in deaths.
The report looks at the street homeless — those living outside — and sheltered homeless — those staying in shelters or temporarily with friends or family. It does not include people who died of obvious natural causes or those who have housing but consider themselves part of the street community.
There were 25 deaths in B.C. in 2011, compared to 34 in 2010 and 53 in 2008. Five of the deaths were on Vancouver Island, down from 12 in both 2007 and 2008.
The majority were found to have died of natural causes or from accidents, with three suicides and one homicide. Two died from exposure and five from alcohol or drug poisoning.
Between 2007 and 2011, the Coroners Service investigated 25 homeless deaths in Victoria, six in Campbell River, three each in Duncan and Nanaimo and nine in other Island communities.
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