A record number of homeless people — 918 last year alone — are dying across Los Angeles County, on bus benches, hillsides, railroad tracks and sidewalks.
Deaths have jumped 76% in the past five years, outpacing the growth of the homeless population, according to a Kaiser Health News analysis of the coroner’s data.
Health officials and experts have not pinpointed a single cause for the sharp increase in deaths, but they say rising substance abuse may be a major reason. The surge also reflects growth in the number of people who are chronically homeless and those who don’t typically use shelters, which means more people are living longer on the streets with serious physical and behavioral health issues, they say.
“It is a combination of people who are living for a long time in unhealthy situations and who have multiple health problems,” said Michael Cousineau, a professor at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. “There are more complications, and one of those complications is a high mortality rate. It’s just a tragedy.”
Nearly 53,000 people were homeless in L.A. County last year, according to a point-in-time count of homeless residents, an increase of about 39% since 2014. The majority were not living in shelters.
The homeless population has also grown nationwide, but there is no national count of homeless deaths.
The Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner considers someone homeless if that person doesn’t have an established residence, or if the body was found in an encampment, shelter or other location that suggests homelessness.