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Housing advocates continue to mourn homeless deaths in Toronto

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Lisa was trying to leave the life of injecting drugs. With the support of social workers and nurses at the Works, she was making plans to enter rehab and move out of the inner city as well as making progress in identifying her triggers to use drugs.

"And she was doing very, very well," said Karen Perrott, a nurse at the Works, a needle exchange program helping to prevent the spread of communicable disease for drug users. "But she was still involved with friends who used drugs and unfortunately had an accidental overdose."

She also belonged to a group defined as marginally housed, individuals living in transitional living programs, living with relatives or friends (i.e., "doubled-up"), and living in cheap hotels and motels, or single room occupancy units (SROs). Housing advocates believe in a broader definition of homelessness that includes marginally housed persons since they lack permanent, stable, long-term accommodation.

Two weeks ago, Lisa overdosed on fentanyl, an opioid 100 times stronger than morphine that is supposed to be released slowly over 72 hours and prescribed only to patients with chronic pain conditions. Drug users have increasingly turned to this powerful painkiller for a quick and dangerous high.

The number of sudden deaths from overdosing on fentanyl pain patches has been on the rise over the last few years, according to researchers. In many cases, addicts take the entire three day amount at once either by injecting, ingesting or smoking it.

"The availability of pain patches on the street for a reasonable price is very dangerous because you cannot know for sure how much you're injecting," said Perrott, who spoke about Lisa to rabble.ca after the monthly homeless memorial vigil held on Tuesday at the Church of the Holy Trinity.

"Having the availability of narcan, which can reverse an opioid overdose, could have saved her life."

In the past, Lisa had worked as a hairdresser and was planning to return to that line of work. Instead, the 30-year-old now joins a list of over 600 people who have died since 1985 as a result of homelessness in Toronto.

The Church of the Holy Trinity and the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee has maintained a Homeless Memorial Board outside the church since October 2000.

"I'm not sure what happened with her that day," said Perrott. "She was doing very well, getting better."

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