The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (Public Health) released a mortality study Tuesday that provides new and alarming data on deaths among people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County.
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 a third during that same period. Drug and alcohol overdose was the largest contributor to the overall increase in the homeless death rate. From 2016 to 2018, the overdose death rate was 26 times higher among the homeless than among the general population. Other leading causes of homeless deaths included heart disease, traffic injuries, homicide and suicide.
“This report is tragic, and reflects a true state of emergency on the streets of our community,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, lead author of the motion. “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.”
“Homelessness can have a devastating impact on a person’s health and well-being, and we need to better understand the underlying causes that contribute to our County’s high mortality rate among those who are experiencing homelessness,” said Supervisor Hilda L. Solis. “Children, single mothers, our friends and neighbors represent the people who are struggling to find a warm, safe bed every night. We cannot abandon them. We must recommit ourselves every day to identify innovative solutions that can help prevent premature deaths among our most vulnerable residents.”
“This alarming increase in homeless deaths requires immediate action to improve the care for our most vulnerable populations,” said Barbara Ferrer, PhD, MPH, MEd, Director of Public Health. “As we work hard to secure housing for those experiencing homelessness, we have a civic and moral obligation to prevent unnecessary suffering and death. We need to start this work by speaking directly with those experiencing homelessness to better understand how to align our support.”
The report also found that people experiencing homelessness died on average 22 years earlier than among the general population (average age was 51 among the homeless and 73 among the general population).
Tuesday’s motion directs Public Health to take multiple actions to help prevent future homeless deaths, including:
– Conduct a health needs assessment of people experiencing homelessness to understand their experiences accessing health, mental health, and substance use services and engaging in treatment, by deploying staff to speak directly with people across Los Angeles County (County), including at the 2019 Care Harbor Free – Clinic, in encampments, at select shelters and access points, and at various convenings facilitated and led by people with lived experience across the County about their healthcare needs, concerns, and the challenges they face in accessing these services
– Review information from various sources, including mortality and morbidity data, program data, and interviews with homeless service providers and outreach team members, to inform the County’s understanding of the current health care delivery system utilized by people experiencing homelessness; and
– Report back to the Board of Supervisors, in writing, 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.
To view the full report online, visit: http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/chie.