Deaths of City street-involved people rise

The number of deaths of City street-involved people has dramatically increased in recent months.

Since August, there have been 13 deaths of people who are connected to the street community in Red Deer. This compares to 16 deaths in a one-year period from August 2009 to August 2010.

“The amount of deaths is really astonishing,” said Jennifer Vanderschaeghe, executive director of the Central Alberta AIDS Network Society. “These people aren’t dying of any specific causes and as far as I know they are non-violent related.

“A lot of street-involved people have health related issues whether it be addiction, mental health, cardiovascular problems, cancer or diabetes.”

She added people involved in Red Deer’s street community often have a difficult time getting the medication they need to treat their health issues.

“Getting prescriptions filled is a really big issue,” said Vanderschaeghe. “There is quite a large number of street-involved people who require prescription medication, but often go without because they can’t afford it.”

Vanderschaeghe said street-involved people aren’t necessarily living on the streets but could be couch surfing at friends’ homes, people who are newly housed or living in the City’s Housing First program.

“A lot of people trickle into a lot of places,” she said. “It’s really about the prevention of folks with chronic disease and treatment.”

Vanderschaeghe said although the number of deaths in the street community is alarming, the number of street-involved people is going down.

“I think we’re getting better at housing and we’re getting better at supporting people once they are house,” she said.

Cpl. Kathe DeHeer, with the Red Deer RCMP, said those who live a high-risk lifestyle are more susceptible to an early death.

“A lot of times these people aren’t accessing the medical care that is necessary for their illness whether it be drug addiction, alcohol addiction or even homelessness,” she said. “Accessing medical care is available for everyone.”

DeHeer added Family and Community Support Services as well as Catholic Social Services offer such necessities for street-involved people.

“Whether or not people access these things is another issue and maybe there is a gap in access,” she said.

Although there have been a high number of deaths amongst street-involved people DeHeer said they have not seen an increase because of it police-wise.