It's also about time that we address the City's accompanying housing challenges.
The City of Toronto will track homeless deaths for the first time, following decades of recommendations and work by local activists.
The City does not currently collect information on homeless deaths. This makes it difficult for Public Health, Shelter and Support Services, and local non-profits to create better policies to meet the needs of Torontonians.
Homeless advocates have highlighted this issue for decades. A 1986 inquiry [PDF] into the high-profile homeless death of Drina Joubert, a former model who died from exposure in December 1985, recommended that the Coroner keep statistics related to homelessness. This recommendation was not implemented.
For three decades, activists have kept their own list and held a monthly vigil outside the Church of the Holy Trinity. A 2013 analysis by the Grid showed more than 800 deaths from 1985–2013, but this likely undercounts the total. More accurate record-keeping began in 2000.
There’s a lot of value in keeping detailed information about homeless deaths. Doing so gives us a better understanding of the deaths that disproportionately affect certain marginalized communities and gives us the tools to prevent these tragic outcomes. The data collection can also help us preserve the stories of individuals affected by homelessness, as well as understand who they were as people and how the system let them down.
Keeping track of this information is a good first step, but there is a lot more to do. The number of people who are homeless in Toronto hasn’t gone down since City Council declared the situation a “disaster” in the late 90s. And homeless shelters remain overcapacity. It’s about time that we collected these statistics, and it’s also about time that we address the accompanying challenges.