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Memorial honours 453 Edmontonians who have died homeless since 2018


A memorial was held Wednesday for people who have died from the direct or indirect effects of being homeless.

The memorial is being organized by the Edmonton Coalition of Housing and Homelessness (ECOHH), and was held at Homeless Memorial Plaza in downtown Edmonton.

The annual memorial started in 2006, but was put on pause during the COVID-19 pandemic. This will be the first time since 2019 that the community will be able to come together to collectively mourn the 453 people from the community that died over the last three years.

Jim Gurnett is an organizer with ECOHH. He said some people do die directly from homelessness - freezing to death or dying from drug poisoning or assault. But the great majority are slowly worn down by chronic illness, poor diet, violence and the constant stress of living without a place to be safe.

Gurnett says that most people can live through brief periods of homelessness, but many of the people that have been dying in recent years have been living without adequate housing for over a decade.

“And they just reach a point where they’ve had so many health problems that have attacked them,” Gurnett said. “They just can’t take it anymore and we lose them.”

Research from the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness shows people experiencing homelessness die at a higher-than-average rate, partly due to higher rates of chronic illness and lack of access to regular healthcare services. In Edmonton, the ECOHH reports that deaths from homelessness have been rising since 2016.

They spiked in 2021, with 222 people dying. The number of people experiencing homelessness has doubled since the pandemic started, and Gurnette said that part of the spike in deaths was from COVID-19, as hygiene and social distancing are difficult for people living in shelters or in encampments.

Gurnett says that chronic homelessness became an issue when non-market homes stopped receiving funding. He said that the way forward is to pressure provincial and federal governments into re-committing to funding affordable housing.

Speakers from the City of Edmonton were there to give an update on the city’s Affordable Housing Strategy. The city has said it will spend $9.3 million this year on projects responding to homelessness, and several new affordable housing projects were announced earlier this year. In May, a report by the Office of the City Auditor found the City of Edmonton lacked strategies, plans or a dedicated body to outline a strategy or coordinate efforts to address homelessness. Top Stories

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