Edmonton homeless-related deaths spike to 421 in 2023, an all-time high

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Homeless-related deaths have more than doubled in the city since 2022, with the Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness (ECOHH) reporting 421 deaths in 2023.

ECOHH hosted the 18th annual memorial service on Thursday at Homeless Memorial Plaza, located at a small park north of city hall on 103A Avenue and 100 Street.

Jim Gurnett with ECOHH said the organization has been collecting data in collaboration with other community partners in Edmonton since 2005. Deaths in 2023 surpassed 2022’s 160 homeless-related deaths by more than double, marking an all-time high.

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“We were startled and astonished,” Gurnett said.

“It is a huge increase. It’s more than double any of the past several years. It speaks to the fact that the cumulative effect of homelessness is getting worse and worse. The longer people are homeless, the more it wears your life down, the more dangers it creates physically and mentally in your life.”

A group of people lay flowers during the annual homeless memorial on Thursday. The event remembers Edmontonians who have died due to homelessness. Photo by David Bloom /Postmedia

OCME numbers don’t tell full story

In late May, data from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) presented to Edmonton city council showed more people without homes are dying, with 302 recorded deaths in 2023, up from the 200 deaths the previous year.

The OCME investigates cases of people who died in Alberta by homicidal violence, by suicide, by accident, unexpectedly, in suspicious circumstances, when unattended by a physician or while in government care. As a result, not all deaths are investigated by the OCME.

Gurnett said the numbers provided by the medical examiner don’t include the number of people who died directly or indirectly as a result of homelessness. He said the ECOHH is trusting its own numbers, which include people with and without fixed addresses who have died outside of unexpected deaths.

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“We’re not saying they specifically died on the street because of the weather or violence or something like that,” Gurnett said.

“We’re saying these are people whose lives end too soon because of the effect or the influence of homelessness in their lives. Some of them are relatively sudden and unexpected, but in many cases, these are people who have had health issues that didn’t get treated because of their homelessness.”

homeless memorial
A woman pays her respects during the annual homeless memorial on Thursday, June 6, 2024. The event honours Edmontonians who have died due to homelessness. Photo by David Bloom /Postmedia

Sobering reminder

ECOHH chairwoman Nadine Chalifoux said the memorial is a sobering reminder of the worsening effects of homelessness, adding that help needs to come from all levels of government. She suggested including people with first-hand experiences of homelessness to advise on future policies.

“What they need to do is include people who have been homeless to help advise them on what is best for these people, because only those people know what’s best for them,” Chalifoux said.

“They need to bring in organizations — to help advise them as well — that work with people who are homeless and get appropriate services, instead of cutting dollars to our frontline workers.

“We need to be giving them more instead of duplicating services that we already have.”

— With files from Lauren Boothby 

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