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Homeless Deaths In LA County Have Nearly Doubled In The Past 6 Years

Tents on Hollywood Boulevard during a February rainstorm in Los Angeles. (Matt Tinoco/LAist)
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More than 1,000 people died while experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County in 2018. That's nearly double the number of homeless people who died in 2013, according to a report released Tuesday by county health officials which looked at deaths within that six-year time period. Heart disease, drug and alcohol overdoses, and transportation-related injuries were the most common causes of death.

Even when adjusting for the increase in the number of homeless people in Los Angeles, the mortality rate has increased each year.

"Put simply, being homeless in L.A. County is becoming increasingly deadly," the authors wrote.

The report is a response to a September request by the L.A. Board of Supervisors, which asked the county Department of Public Health to study health outcomes for homeless people. Health officials say they will release several additional reports on homeless mortality in the coming months.

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For the study, Health Department researchers scoured death certificates and records from the L.A. Medical Examiner-Coroner from 2013 to 2018. They included people who were living on the streets, in vehicles and in homeless shelters or other interim housing at the time of death.

"In a real sense, we're seeing two or three people every day coming through our office," said Dr. Jonathan Lucas, Los Angeles County's Medical Examiner-Coroner, to the Board of Supervisors.

Researchers found that the average age of death is 51 years among homeless people, compared to 73 for the general population of L.A. County.


The report found that coronary heart disease accounted for about 22% of homeless deaths, drug and alcohol overdoses accounted for 21% of deaths, and another 6% of deaths were related to alcohol dependence, including liver disease.

Nearly one in four homeless people -- 24% -- died as a result of a traumatic injury. More than a third of those deaths -- 9% of the total -- were transportation-related. The majority of those deaths are the result of car crashes.

Homicide was the cause of 6% percent of all the deaths. Suicide accounted for 5% of deaths.

Researchers also looked at the difference in mortality rates among homeless people by race between 2016 and 2018. They found the mortality rate was highest among homeless white people across all years. But while that rate has dropped, the mortality rate among blacks and Latinos experiencing homelessness has increased over the same time period.