The death rate among people without homes in Los Angeles County jumped by a third from 2013 to 2018, with drug or alcohol use as the leading cause, according to a report released by health officials on Tuesday.
The analysis from the county Department of Public Health found that 1,382 per 100,000 homeless people died in 2013, when the study began. In 2018, that number jumped to 1,875 per 100,000 people.
About 27% of the deaths were caused by alcohol or drug use, the report said. That’s followed by injury and violence at 24%, coronary heart disease at 22%, and transportation-related injuries at 9%.
Six percent, or about 222 homeless people, were killed between 2013 and 2018, according to the county. Five percent, or 185 people, died by suicide.
While white individuals in the general population have lower mortality rates than African Americans, the opposite is true among the homeless, the report said.
Experts believe that’s because white people more often become homeless due to physical and mental disability, while African Americans lose shelter because of poverty and discrimination. Therefore, more white people may be sicker than African Americans when they become homeless, officials said.
Homeless people on average die at about 51 years old, compared to 73 in the general population.
“Put simply, being homeless in LA County is becoming increasingly deadly,” the report said.
County officials recommended direct outreach to assess the health and mental health service needed by homeless individuals. They also urged that strategies to prevent traffic fatalities meet the needs of the homeless population.
“This alarming increase in homeless deaths requires immediate action to improve the care for our most vulnerable populations,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, 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.”
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