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Homeless deaths rise in Okanagan

Kelowna and Vernon saw 14 and 13 deaths last year
The Greater Vernon Homeless Memorial at Polson Park commemorates those lost to the homelessness and drug epidemic. It will be moving to a new spot in 2024. (Bowen Assman- Morning Star)

The number of homeless individuals who died in 2022 was up drastically over previous years in Vernon.

A BC Coroners Service report shows a 225 per cent increase locally from four in 2021 to 13 in 2022.

There was also an increase in Kelowna, although not as sharp of an increase, from 11 in 2021 to 14 2022.

The two Okanagan communities made the top list of 11, which also includes Kamloops, Vancouver, Surrey, Victoria, Abbotsford, Prince George, Chilliwack, Nanaimo and Langley.

Overall, last year saw 342 deaths among people experiencing homelessness, continuing an increase in deaths among the unhoused population of 138 per cent in the past two years.

During the period studied (2015-22), there were 1,464 deaths involving individuals identified as experiencing homelessness in British Columbia, equating to an average of 183 deaths per year. There was a significant increase from this average in 2021 and 2022.

Almost three quarters (74 per cent) of decedents were aged between 30 and 59, and 82 per cent were male.

Just as it has across all demographics and in communities throughout B.C., the toxic drug supply has significantly contributed to the increased number of deaths among people who are precariously housed or experiencing homelessness. More than eight out of every 10 deaths in the review period were classified as accidental, and of those accidental deaths, more than nine in 10 were determined to have been caused by unregulated drugs.

In Vernon, there were two deaths recorded in 2015, five in 2016, one in 2017, seven in 2018, one in 2019 and two in 2020.

In Kelowna there were three in 2015, 10 in 2016, 12 in 2017, seven in 2018, four in 2019 and five in 2020.

READ MORE: Toxic drugs blamed as B.C. homeless deaths more than double

READ MORE: Vernon homeless number increases

Jennifer Smith

About the Author: Jennifer Smith

Vernon has always been my home, and I've been working at The Morning Star since 2004.
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