The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health released a mortality study on Oct. 29 that provides new and alarming data on deaths among people experiencing homelessness.
Not only have the number of homeless deaths doubled, from 536 in 2013 to 1,047 in 2018, but the death rate, which accounts for increases in the total number of homeless people, increased by over one-third during the same period. Drug and alcohol overdose was the largest contributor to the overall increase in the death rate among homeless individuals. From 2016 to 2018, the overdose death rate was 26 times higher among homeless individuals than among the general population. Other leading causes of death for people living on the streets include heart disease, traffic injuries, homicide and suicide.
The report found that people experiencing homelessness died on average 22 years earlier than those in the general population. The average age of death was 51 among homeless individuals and 73 among the general population.
“This report is tragic and reflects a true state of emergency on the streets of our community,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, 2nd District. “It is unconscionable and inhumane for society to continue to turn a blind eye to this plight. That’s why we recommended that the board act with urgency and purpose to direct the Department of Public Health to examine and execute strategies that lead to a rapid reduction in these disturbing numbers.”
Ridley-Thomas introduced a motion directing the public health department to take multiple actions to help prevent future deaths of homeless individuals. The motion calls for conducting a health needs assessment of people experiencing homelessness to determine ways to better address the crisis. The county will deploy more staff to speak with homeless individuals in encampments, shelters and other locations with the goal of linking them with services and determining how the process can be streamlined.
Ridley-Thomas’ motion also calls for the public health department to report back to the Board of Supervisors within 120 days with a set of recommendations, informed by findings from this assessment, on steps that can be taken to decrease mortality among people experiencing homelessness and improve treatment outcomes.
For information and to read the report, visit publichealth.lacounty.gov/chie.
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