A record number of homeless people are dying across Los Angeles County — on bus benches, hillsides, railroad tracks and sidewalks.
Last year alone, 918 people died. And in the last five years, deaths have jumped 76%, outpacing the growth of the homeless population, according to an analysis of county coroner data by Kaiser Health News.
So far, health officials and experts have been unable to pinpoint a single cause for the increase, but say rising substance abuse may be a major reason.
The surge also reflects a rise in the number of people who are chronically homeless and who don’t typically use shelters, meaning 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 USC. “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 and most were not living in shelters, according to a point-in-time count of homeless residents. That’s an increase of about 39% since 2014.