The LA Times reports today that 666 homeless people were found dead in LA County through the end of August. That means the county is averaging about 3 deaths per day and is on track to surpass 1,000 deaths this year. The exact breakdown of the causes of these deaths is still being put together by the Coroner’s office, but the Times’ story suggests addiction is a big part of the problem:
Bodies are being found in virtually every corner of the county, a grim consequence of the intensifying epidemic of homelessness. In 2012, 407 homeless people died in L.A. County. The number has gone up sharply every year, to last year’s record high of 921…
The first 666 deaths of the year included 42 homicides and 27 suicides. Males vastly outnumbered females, 83% to 17%, and the victims included 253 white people, 220 Latinos and 168 African Americans.
Substance abuse and heart conditions, sometimes in conjunction, were among the leading causes of death, but no cause had been determined in about 100 of the cases.
Obviously, addiction to meth, fentanyl, heroin or other opioids is a serious problem for people who have homes as well as those who don’t. In 2017, approximately 47,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses. The number of people dealing with opioid addiction is more than 10 times that number. According to the National Institutes of Health, “About 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.” The Times spoke to a physicians assistant named Carrie Kowalski who works at a clinic in Venice. Kowalski said many of the homeless addicts she encounters have similar personal stories:
On her street medicine rounds, she had told me, she sees every conceivable malady and a lot of addiction. A common theme among her patients, she said, is that “something went wrong from childhood and started someone on a path” to physical, mental and addiction issues.
“It can be physical violence, abuse in the foster care system, sexual abuse, the experience of veterans, and you become homeless and now you’ve got more trauma,” Kowalski said.
In other words, many of these people are medicating themselves because of some private pain they can’t deal with sober. That’s not an argument for letting the homeless take over the sidewalks and use the streets as a bathroom. On the contrary, getting them off the street should be a priority, whether they say they want the help or not.
What’s not helpful is turning a blind eye to the problem and letting addicts live in a law-free zone when you know the next dose of illegal narcotics could be their last. What’s also not helpful is pretending the hardcore drug addicts and alcoholics who make up a significant percentage of the chronic homeless are going to be helped by building more high-density apartments. The worst aspects of this problem go beyond lowering rent payments.