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Homeless deaths more than doubled in British Columbia in 2016, coroner says

A new report from the BC Coroners Service says 175 homeless people died in the province in 2016, a 140 per cent increase over the 73 who died in 2015.
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 File Photo: Dan ToulgoetFile Photo: Dan Toulgoet

VANCOUVER — The number of homeless people who died in British Columbia more than doubled in 2016 compared with the previous year, and the majority died of drug overdoses or alcohol poisoning.

A new report from the BC Coroners Service says 175 homeless individuals died in the province in 2016, a 140 per cent increase over the 73 who died in 2015.

The coroner says 53 per cent of the deaths in 2016 resulted from unintentional drug or alcohol poisoning, compared with 34 per cent on average from 2007 to 2015.

B.C. has been gripped by an opioid crisis and the mounting death toll in 2016 prompted the province to declare a public health emergency in April of that year.

Advocacy group Megaphone says the province should form a death review panel to examine why homeless fatalities are on the rise and make recommendations for how governments can address the emergency.

Executive director Jessica Hannon says people who experience homelessness and also use drugs are disproportionately impacted by the overdose crisis.