The reality should shock you.
The death rate among people of this city who have fallen through society’s cracks is better suited to medieval times than the modern era in which we live. But there is something we can do to improve this appalling situation.
Down at Our Place, the downtown drop-in centre for Victoria’s street community, memorial services are held about two times per week.
It’s a community that’s notoriously difficult to track. A 2008 estimate by the Mayor’s Task Force on Breaking the Cycle of Mental Illness, Addictions and Homelessness puts the number of homeless in Victoria at 1,550.
If we take that number and compare it to the number of memorials held just at Our Place (not everyone labelled as homeless uses that facility), the death rate approaches 10 per cent. Compare that to the general population, in which an average of 540 people die each year among every 100,000 Canadians.
And while the national life expectancy rate is about 81 years, the services held at Our Place are for people who average around 45 years of age. It’s a terrible reality that urgently needs to be addressed.
Some will argue that many of these fatalities are self-inflicted, but the experience shows the deaths are caused by maladies that can be treated. Unfortunately, mental illness and addictions conspire to keep people from seeking that treatment.
The good news is that a working solution already exists. It just needs to be embraced and expanded to meet the need.
The answer lies in the success experienced by the Our Place model, essentially a facility whose only purpose is to welcome those unwelcome anywhere else. An accompanying health-care clinic and expanded mobile medical unit that takes the same non-judgmental approach would be a start.
This will cost money, but the status quo is already costing us much more — our humanity.