PART ONE. Series continues Sunday.
Among the boutiques, specialty shops and restaurants of downtown Victoria, people are literally dying of poverty and homelessness, says a scientist with the Centre for Addictions Research of B.C.
The observation comes from Bernie Pauly, an associate professor in the University of Victoria school of nursing, after a spike in deaths among Victoria’s street population this year.
While life expectancy in Victoria is around 81 years, those living on the street, in shelters or single-room-occupancy hotels have a life expectancy of between 60 and 65, Pauly said.
“You have people who are dying significantly prematurely,” he said. “Homelessness kills people.”
Canadian studies have found that, for the population that rotates between shelters, the streets and unstable housing, there is only a 30 per cent chance that someone who is 25 years old will live to be 75.
The risk of death is greatest among homeless people with HIV, renal or liver disease, an arrhythmia or a history of previous incarceration or chronic homelessness, according to a Toronto study published in 2002 by Stephen Hwang, a research scientist at the Centre for Research on Inner City Health at St. Michael’s Hospital and an expert on homelessness and health.
Since spring, advocates say, 42 people from the street-involved community have died. Fewer people have been dying in recent months, but, over the summer, social service agencies were alarmed that the rate was three times higher than usual.
Many of those who died were in their 40s and 50s and several were in their 20s.
The street lifestyle contributes to illness and death, whether from poor nutrition, exposure to the elements or complications from addictions and mental illness, said Rev. Al Tysick of the Dandelion Society. Every morning, he delivers coffee, doughnuts and conversation to about 80 people who sleep on the streets of Victoria.
“Pneumonia takes more of them by far, because they can’t fight it off,” he said.
A spate of deaths is not unusual for the community, Tysick said.
“I have been burying an average of two a week for a period of years.”
Pauly sees respiratory and heart problems, infectious diseases and overdoses as major causes of death.
There’s also suicide.
“It’s demoralizing to be looked down on and depressing to be in a life situation where it doesn’t look as if there’s much hope,” Pauly said.
SUNDAY: Heartbreak for families
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