‘People are still dying’: Changes coming after another suspected overdose death in supportive housing

A woman, believed to be in her 20s, was found deceased in a supportive housing unit at the Howard Johnson Hotel.

Victoria police remained on scene at the Howard Johnson supportive housing facility on Gorge Road East more than 24 hours after they were notified a body had been found in one of the rooms.

Residents say the woman, believed to be in her early 20s, died of a suspected overdose and police say there is nothing to suggest the death is suspicious.

“She was like you would see a tiny girl, full of life though, and I just want to tell her family that I’m so sorry that I wasn’t there, I should have been there, I can’t say any more than that, it’s awful,” said one of the building’s residents who didn’t want to be identified for fear it could compromise her housing.

She says this is just the latest tragedy she’s witnessed during her time living in the building.

“I’ve been in this building for a year and a half, this is the sixth deceased person I’ve seen them take out,” she said. “This is coming from a pandemic where a building has been set aside as a ‘wet building’ for lack of better words, but people are still dying.”

While most of 1,644 people who have died from suspected drug poisoning in B.C. in the first nine months of this year have been found inside private homes (914), 380 (23%) have been found in supportive housing facilities, shelters, or hotels like the Howard Johnson.

“For some time now we’ve known that the most difficult group of people to support is individuals who are using alone in their homes,” said Fred Cameron with SOLID Outreach Society.

READ MORE: A closer look inside one of Victoria’s ‘homeless hotels’

Starting next month SOLID, which runs a supervised consumption room in the hotel, is planning to change its approach in response. It will reduce hours in its consumption room but ramp up first-aid training and education for the residents themselves.

“By my estimation it will be a much more effective model, it goes around the clock instead of doing it at our convenience, this is not a 9 to 5 problem so a 9 to 5 solution isn’t going to solve it,” said Cameron.

“We’re going to put more efforts into training, educating people within the building and have supports offered by friends and neighbours instead of a professional coming into the building.”

Our Place Society, which runs the Howard Johnson supportive housing facility, says it can’t comment while the death investigation is ongoing.

April LawrenceApril Lawrence

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