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Eight homeless people have died in Vancouver since mid-December, city hopes emergency declaration will speed response

Rate of deaths in 2023 prompted city’s emergency declaration

By Mia Ryder-Marks, Columbian staff reporter
Published: February 27, 2024, 8:23pm
4 Photos
Homeless Persons&rsquo; Memorial Day attendees light candles Dec. 21 at St. Paul Lutheran Church in downtown Vancouver. Between mid-December and late January eight homeless people died. Last year, 43 people experiencing homelessness or who are connected to the unhoused community died.
Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day attendees light candles Dec. 21 at St. Paul Lutheran Church in downtown Vancouver. Between mid-December and late January eight homeless people died. Last year, 43 people experiencing homelessness or who are connected to the unhoused community died. (Photos by Taylor Balkom/The Columbian files) Photo Gallery

Every eight days between mid-December and late January, a person experiencing homelessness in Vancouver died.

“We are already on track to surpass 2023 numbers,” Vancouver policy manager Aaron Lande told the city council on Monday.

In December, the city’s Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day honored 43 who had died in 2023. Eight have died since then.

Lunde and the city’s homeless response manager, Jamie Spinelli, presented data collected between Dec. 14 and Jan. 31. Of the eight deaths reported in that period, one person died by overdose in a supportive housing program, and three died by overdose while experiencing unsheltered homelessness.

“That tells me that we need to rapidly get people into safe and supportive places, but that in apartments where isolation is more likely to occur, is perhaps not the safest option for everyone right away, even if it is ultimately our long-term goal and hope for folks,” Spinelli said in an email Tuesday.

A fifth death was due to terminal illness, two people’s causes of death are unknown, and one cause of death remains under investigation. The death under investigation may have been caused by a combination of substance use — not related to fentanyl — and exposure to cold weather, Spinelli said in the email.

“The prior year we had five overdose deaths (as far as we know), and we’ve potentially hit that number in roughly an eight-week period,” Spinelli said in the email.

Addressing the rate of people dying on the streets of Vancouver has been a top priority for city officials and outreach teams.

“It’s one of the reasons we declared the emergency, to be able to respond more rapidly,” Spinelli said of the city’s civil emergency declaration in November.

She added the city is working on establishing a so-called bridge shelter under that emergency declaration. The shelter would provide 150 beds, as well as services such as medical respite beds, on-site substance use disorder services, a medication-assisted treatment clinic and peer support.

Naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, is also becoming widely available to the public, outreach workers and medical teams.

“(The Homeless Assistance and Resources Team) is spending nearly all their time in camps to ensure they are available and accessible to offer services, support, assistance in whatever way possible,” Spinelli said.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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