Monitoring Deaths of Homeless People

Homelessness is a known problem in Toronto and contributes to health inequities. In partnership with our supporting agencies, Toronto Public Health (TPH) is tracking the deaths of homeless people in order to get a better estimate of the number of deaths and to identify year to year, seasonal, geographic and other trends. Data is being collected for people who are experiencing homelessness and die while living at shelters, on the street, or at other locations in Toronto.

Deaths Reported to Date (January 1 to June 30)*: 46


Average Number of Deaths per Week, Summary by Quarter*

January 1 to March 31: 2.1

April to June 30: 1.5

Six-month average: 1.8


Median Age of Deceased (years), Summary by Quarter*

January 1 to March 31: 51.0

April 1 to June 30: 48.5

Six-month median: 50.0


*Results are derived from Toronto Public Health, Shelter Services and other data sources and are subject to adjustment as new reports or additional information about existing reports are received.

Updates for 2017 will be posted during the last week of July and October 2017, and January 2018.

What is the definition of "homeless"?

  • As a general rule, this project characterizes "homelessness" as:

The situation of an individual or family without stable, permanent, appropriate housing, or the immediate prospect, means and ability of acquiring it. It is the result of systemic or societal barriers, a lack of affordable and appropriate housing, the individual/household’s financial, mental, cognitive, behavioural or physical challenges, and/or racism and discrimination. Most people do not choose to be homeless, and the experience is generally negative, unpleasant, stressful and distressing. (Canadian Homelessness Research Network of York University)

  • Thus someone who is temporarily staying with friends or family, or transitioning to new housing, but has experienced long periods without a permanent home, would be considered homeless.

Why is TPH launching this new initiative?

  • Homelessness is a known problem in Toronto and contributes to health inequities. Until now, death data for homeless people in Toronto has been limited to those who had been living in City-funded shelters. As a result, the full scope of this problem has been unknown.
  • A Toronto City Council motion directed "appropriate city staff to collect all relevant data related to the deaths of homeless individuals within and outside of homeless shelters."
  • Toronto Public Health's mandate includes monitoring and assessing the health of the population.
  • Through this initiative, data will be collected for homeless people who die while living on the street, at a friend's place, at a shelter, or at other locations in Toronto. Ultimately, the initiative will provide better data to help carry out this mandate and provide solid evidence on which to base efforts to improve the health of this vulnerable population.

What are the recorded numbers from recent years?

  • Recent stats for recorded deaths of people living in City-funded shelters are as follows:
    • 2016: 30 deaths
    • 2015: 45 deaths
    • 2014: 30 deaths
    • 2013: 16 deaths
    • Complete data is available via Homelessness Services
  • These numbers represent deaths to City-funded shelter residents and do not reflect the full extent of the issue. 

Who is participating in this initiative?

  • Toronto Public Health is leading the initiative.
  • Approximately 200 health and social service agencies that support homeless people will participate in the initiative by sharing data with Toronto Public Health. The Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario (OCCO) will also help to verify some of the data.
  • Toronto Public Health will collect and analyze the data, and report the results on a regular basis

How will it work?

  • A secure, web-based form will be made available to participating agencies. Data collected by the form will be downloaded by TPH where it will be reviewed and verified with the assistance of the OCCO as noted above.

When will it start?

  • Data collection began January 1, 2017.

What kind of information will be collected?

  • Initially, we expect to collect information about the deceased individual, including:
    • gender
    • age
    • Indigenous heritage
    • history of homelessness 
    • agencies used by the deceased
    • date and place of death
    • unofficial cause of death
    • contact information for the individual reporting the death
    • other information deemed as relevant by the reporting individual 
  • We will evaluate the system going forward and may add additional data fields as needed.
  • Individual-level data will be treated as confidential.

What will be done with the information?

  • Data will be summarized and reported in aggregate form.
  • Epidemiologically, the information will be used to gain a truer understanding of the number of deaths in the homeless community and potentially identify year to year, seasonal, geographic and other trends related to the population.
  • The information will help raise awareness of these tragic deaths and to respond with appropriate strategies to help improve the health of this vulnerable population, thereby helping to reduce health inequities in Toronto.
  • Individual-level data will be treated as confidential.

When will the information be available?

  • Comprehensive reporting is currently expected on an annual basis.
  • The first annual report is planned to be released early in 2018.
  • Updates for the number of deaths, average number of deaths per week, and median age will be posted quarterly, during the last week of the month following the quarter.
  • Additional reporting will be determined based on need and the results of the data. 

Who can I contact for more information?

  • Members of the public or partner agencies, contact:
Dr. Joyce Bernstein, Epidemiologist
Surveillance and Epidemiology Unit / Performance and Standards Directorate
joyce.bernstein@toronto.ca
(416) 338-8075
  • Members of Toronto City Council or other government agencies, contact:
Paul Fleiszer, Manager
Surveillance and Epidemiology Unit / Performance and Standards Directorate
paul.fleiszer@toronto.ca
(416) 338-8073
  • Members of the media, contact:
tphmedia@toronto.ca

 

For more information or to report a death of a homeless person, please contact the Toronto Public Health Surveillance and Epidemiology Unit at 416-392-7450 or seu@toronto.ca.

If the death is newly discovered, please call 911 first.

Cut-off Dates for Reporting Deaths

For deaths occurring in 2017 between:

January 1 and March 31: Please report by April 14

April 1 and June 30: Please report by July 14

July 1 and September 30: Please report by October 13

October 1 and December 31: Please report by January 12, 2018