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Victoria deadlier than New York City for the homeless?

If you're homeless, Victoria is deadlier than New York City. Welcome to the jungle.

If members of your community were dying at three times the normal rate, would you want to know why?

That's exactly what is happening in Victoria. Pneumonia. Suicides. Drug overdoses. What may look like isolated incidents would seem to have a common root cause: poverty.

Over 30 members of downtown Victoria's homeless community have reportedly died between August and November of last year. According to Yianni Pappas-Acreman of the University of Victoria's Poverty Law Club, that's three times the average rate.

But Regional Coroner spokeswoman Barbara McLintock said that while there was a sharp rise in deaths of homeless people in Victoria during the summer, the actual time period during which the deaths took place was longer than four months.

If the students' numbers are right, an even scarier picture emerges when we compare Victoria's statistic with the homeless death rate of a bigger, badder city.

Victoria: Deadlier than New York City?

Between July and September of 2011, New York City reported a total of 44 homeless deaths throughout the five boroughs (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island). This number includes those in shelters as well as those actually living on the streets. This data was provided by the NYC Office of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), the NYC Department of Homeless Services (DHS), and the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).

As of the 2010 Census, New York City had a population of 8.175 million people, with an estimated 2011 population of 8.24 million. That's roughly 100 Victorias: the 2011 Census pins BC capital's population at just over 80,000.

So, Victoria is 1/100 the size of New York, but had only 16 fewer homeless deaths in a comparable three-month period. If you're down on your luck and you're forced to choose between Victoria and The Bronx, you should probably go with The Bronx.

(To be fair, it's worth pointing out that even the "normal" death rate among Victoria's homeless-- ten over the course of three months-- is still very high compared to that of New York City: The BC capital's low population will always make it look bad in terms of crime and unnatural deaths.)

Even when we leave the mean streets of New York and return to the relative quiet of British Columbia, we run into another alarming comparison: in 2011, BC had a grand total of 87 reported homicides. In other words, deaths among Victoria's homeless population over the course of three months reached nearly 1/3 the annual provincial murder rate.

(South Vancouver Island as a region has 2.4 violent crimes per 1,000 people. In seeking Victoria's actual murder rate, I found that the Victoria Police Department's crime statistics page was empty, and am waiting to hear back from them.)


You would think that such a drastic spike in homeless mortality would spark a Coroner's inquest. That is not the case, however; at least, not yet. The Poverty Law Club, as well as other local homeless advocacy groups are pushing for just such an inquest.

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