At least 70 homeless people have died in Toronto in the first 9 months of the year

At least 70 homeless people have died in Toronto in the first nine months of this year, the city's medical officer of health said Monday.

Toronto's Medical Health Officer Dr. Eileen de Villa says homelessness is 'risk factor' for early death

A homeless man lies sleeping on the sidewalk of King Street in downtown Toronto during an extreme cold alert on January 8, 2017. (David Donnelly/CBC)

At least 70 homeless people have died in Toronto in the first nine months of this year, the city's medical officer of health said Monday.

Dr. Eileen de Villa told a Toronto Board of Health meeting on Monday that 57 were men, or 81 per cent, while 13 were women. The median of age of those who died is 48.

She said more than 200 health and social service agencies reported data on homeless deaths in Toronto through a new online data collection tool. 

"Based on these numbers ... being homeless is absolutely a significant risk factor for early death," she said.

​Forty-six homeless people died indoors, four died outdoors, and the location of 20 deaths was unknown. Indoor locations included hospitals and city shelters.
Toronto Medical Officer of Health Eileen de Villa says at least 70 homeless people died in Toronto in the first nine months of this year. (Tina Mackenzie/CBC)

There were 27 deaths in the first quarter, 21 deaths in the second quarter and 22 deaths in the third quarter.

De Villa said the average of the numbers is 1.8 deaths per week.

The city began collecting data on homeless deaths in a more comprehensive way in January 2017. Previously, the city tracked only the deaths of those living in shelters that it funds. 

Many deaths due to overdoses

The cause of death varied but a number were associated with overdoses. Among the 70 deaths, there were many single causes of death, including heart attack. The official cause of death was determined only in cases involving coroner investigations, she said.

There were as many deaths in February as there were in July. A total of 11 homeless people died in each of those months. 

Of the 70, a total of 32 were investigated more fully by the regional coroner, she said.

She said the data will help the city understand better the "root causes" of homelessness, will give the city a greater sense of the scope of the problem and will help the city and its agencies make better informed decisions about services for homeless people.

The health and social services agencies report deaths of homeless people to Toronto Public Health through an online form. Hospitals are not yet included in the reporting system, de Villa said.

De Villa added that the city needs to collect relevant data but also preserve the confidentiality of the homeless people who died and to protect their privacy. 
Of the 70 homeless people who died in Toronto from January to September 2017, 57 were men, while 13 were women. (David Donnelly/CBC)

The number of recorded deaths in city-funded shelters in 2016 was 30, while the number in 2015 was 45.

Toronto Public Health says: "These numbers represent deaths to city-funded shelter residents and do not reflect the full extent of the issue." 

City using data to identify trends

Data collected includes the homeless person's age, gender, date of death, location and cause of death, any Indigenous heritage, history of homelessness, agencies used by the person, and contact information for the person reporting the death.

The tracking system focuses on homeless people who die while living on the street, the home of a friend or family, at a shelter or other location. All data collected is confidential.

On its website, Toronto Public Health says it is tracking the deaths of homeless people to get a better idea of the number of deaths and to identify year to year, seasonal and geographic trends.

Data is being collected for people who are experiencing homelessness and who die while living at shelters, on the street, or at other locations.

"This will provide solid evidence on which to base efforts to improve the health of this vulnerable population," it reads.

Toronto Public Health will report next year on the total number of homeless deaths in 2017.