Research Substance Use

Evictions increasing overdose risk and homelessness, study says

This story was adapted from a BCCSU news release, which you can read here.

Housing policies in Vancouver single room occupancy (SRO) hotels are failing to protect people who use drugs, driving the homelessness crisis and contributing to overdose risk, say researchers from the BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) and University of British Columbia (UBC).

In a recent study published in the ­International Journal of Drug Policy, researchers say housing policy shortcomings are leading to evictions among people who use drugs. The study says many of these evictions are done unlawfully, worsening Vancouver’s homelessness crisis, with many people evicted from private and non-profit SROs forced into homelessness where they are more at risk of overdose and other health harms.

People experiencing homelessness who also use drugs are especially impacted by the overdose emergency. In a recent report on homeless deaths in BC, the BC Coroners Service found that in 2016, 175 people died while living on the streets or in shelters. Of those, 86 per cent of accidental deaths and 53 per cent of all deaths resulted from unintentional drug and/or alcohol poisoning.

Existing policies are ‘life-threatening’

Dr. Ryan McNeil

“We desperately need policy changes to increase housing security, particularly for low-income people and people who use drugs,” says Dr. Ryan McNeil, research scientist at BCCSU and assistant professor at UBC. “We heard countless stories about landlords targeting people specifically for their drug use and unlawfully evicting them, including evictions without notice and in contravention of the Residential Tenancy Act. In the context of overlapping homelessness and overdose crises, it’s not an exaggeration to say these policies are also life-threatening.”

Researchers interviewed more than 50 low-income people living on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside who had experienced an eviction. Overall, researchers found most study participants were evicted unlawfully and unfairly. They also found that existing residential tenancy laws and current dispute mechanisms failed to protect tenants, making them more vulnerable to eviction and landlord retaliation when they did dispute the eviction notice.

Reforms are needed

The study authors are calling for housing policy changes to protect people who use drugs. These changes include:

  • ending the targeting of people who use drugs;
  • enforcing standards of maintenance that lead to many disputes;
  • ending unlawful eviction practices by enacting formal dispute mechanisms; and
  • providing more supports for tenants in dispute resolution.

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