British Columbia

Death toll for people experiencing homelessness jumped 75% last year, B.C. coroner finds

The B.C. Coroners Service says nearly 250 people experiencing homelessness died last year, marking a sharp 75 per cent increase over the number of lives lost in 2020.

Nearly 250 people without stable housing died in 2021, up from 141 in 2020

People walk past tents in front of the Imperial in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood of Vancouver on Sept. 29, 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The B.C. Coroners Service says nearly 250 people experiencing homelessness died last year, marking a sharp 75 per cent jump over the number of lives lost in 2020.

Preliminary numbers released by the coroner Wednesday show 247 people who were homeless died in 2021 — up from 141 in 2020.

"This report reflects the risks and realities that people experiencing homelessness face every day," Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe wrote in a statement.

"We know that many are facing significant health concerns, including physical disabilities, mental health challenges and substance-use issues ... My hope is that this information will help support positive action, both during Homelessness Action Week and beyond."

The coroners service has been studying the number of deaths among people experiencing housing instability since 31 people died in 2012. 

Nearly three-quarters of the people who died last year were between 30 and 59. More than half were living in the Fraser Health or Vancouver Coastal Health regions, data showed.


The coroner classified 74 per cent of the deaths as accidental. Of those accidental deaths, 87 per cent were found to have been caused by illicit drug toxicity.

"Our heartfelt condolences go out to all of the families and friends of loved ones who have lost their lives while experiencing homelessness. The people who died were our neighbours, friends and family members, and our thoughts are with everyone grieving their loss," wrote Murray Rankin, the attorney general and minister responsible for housing, in a statement.

The coroner classified an individual experiencing homelessness as "a person living outdoors, in a makeshift shelter, a parked vehicle or "any other structure not intended for habitation. People who stayed overnight at an emergency shelter, a temporary shelter, in temporary modular housing, safe houses for youth or transition houses for women and children fleeing violence were also counted.

In southeastern B.C., 88 people in Nelson were without a home as of Feb. 1, 2022, according to the annual report card on homelessness issued Tuesday by the Nelson Committee on Homelessness, a non-profit organization.

The report said Nelson, a community of more than 10,000 residents, recorded the province's second-highest rate of homelessness — eight out of every 1,000 people.

Community co-ordinator Jayne Caldwell said with the city's vacancy rate at zero, more than 60 per cent of people in Nelson have been homeless for more than six months.

Caldwell said she hopes the new city council can work together to solve the issue.

"I'm hopeful that whether we have new candidates that come up or we have existing candidates that come into office again, that we can all work together on this because it is such a crisis and we haven't really been treating it like that," she told CBC's Daybreak South.

With files from Daybreak South