We’ve covered a number of stories here dealing with the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles which has been out of control and growing for several years now. Most of these tales have to do with drug addiction, mental illness, crimes committed both by and against the homeless and people using the streets as their bathrooms. But there’s another, even darker element to this story featured in the LA Times this week. As it turns out, the homeless are not just living on the streets. They’re dying on them and in large numbers.
On average, nearly three homeless people are dying daily in the county, nearly double the rate of deaths by homicide. Illness, addiction, accidents, suicide and the ravages of being unsheltered are among the primary causes of death.
“We know the research says that people who are what’s called rough sleepers, those who are living on the streets and not in a shelter or a car, are 10 times more likely to die than the regular population,” said Dr. Susan Partovi, citing a study in Boston. Partovi has been administering to homeless people in Los Angeles for years.
The average age of the first 666 homeless people who died in L.A. County as of Aug. 25 was 51, well below the county’s average life expectancy of roughly 80. Homeless people are dying on sidewalks, along riverbeds, and in tents, parks, shelters, vehicles, motels and hospitals.
This isn’t a case of an existing problem suddenly getting more media attention. The number of homeless people is rising dramatically and the number of deaths on the streets is climbing steadily at the same time. In 2012 LA recorded 407 homeless deaths (which is still far too many). Last year it was 921 and this year they are on track to break 1,000. There isn’t one single cause for these deaths, but most of them were aggravated by the lack of shelter, medical care, and healthy food.
Returning to the crime problem I mentioned above (and which feeds, in part, into the death rate), the numbers there are daunting as well. One report from earlier this year found that crimes against the homeless are nearly impossible to calculate because they so often go unreported. Conversely, crimes by people described as being homeless rose sharply in 2018. The number of rapes in this category rose by 78% over the previous year and serious assaults were up by more than fifty percent.
Much the same as the violent crime problem in Baltimore I wrote about earlier today, this horrific situation is not impossible to fix. Keep in mind that all of this homelessness is cropping up in the midst of one of the greatest concentrations of wealth in the world. Los Angeles also has the third-largest police department in the United States in addition to having the largest sheriff’s department. They also have significant social support services. But the “hands-off” approach that’s frequently taken when it comes to their homeless only encourages more and more people to join their ranks.
Surely some sort of partnership between the municipal government and the upper crust of Hollywood could generate the funds needed for more shelters and medical services. More importantly, they need to put the required staffing and resources in place to begin transitioning as many of these people as possible out their current conditions. Those who are able should be able to find work and eventually a home of their own. Those with mental illness require care. But end goal certainly has to be clearing the streets and greatly reducing the problems that come along with an army of homeless people living out there 24/7.