The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (Public Health) has released its third annual report on mortality among people experiencing homelessness (PEH) in LA County. This new report compares deaths among PEH during the 12-month period preceding the first reported PEH COVID-19 death in the county (April 1, 2019-March 31, 2020) and the 12-month pandemic period that followed from Spring 2020 through Spring 2021. 

The overall number of deaths among PEH increased by 56 percent, from 1,271 to 1,988 deaths, between the two 12-month periods. During the post-pandemic onset period there were 179 COVID-19 deaths among PEH, accounting for 25 percent of the observed increase. Excluding these deaths, the number of deaths among PEH still increased by 43 percent.

Drug overdose (OD) remained the leading cause of death among PEH during both years, and OD deaths increased by 78 percent from the pre- to post-pandemic onset year. 

Coronary heart disease was the second leading cause of death in both years and increased by 29 percent between the two years. 

COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death among PEH in the post-pandemic onset year and these deaths were much more likely to occur among those under age 65 than deaths for this age group in the general population. 

Traffic injury and homicide were the fourth and fifth leading causes of death in the post-pandemic onset year; deaths from these causes increased by one-third and one-half, respectively.

“The findings in this report reflect a true state of emergency on the streets across our County,” said Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, co-author of the 2019 motion addressing rising homeless mortality. “In a civil society, it is unacceptable for any of us to not be profoundly disturbed by the shocking needs documented in this year’s homeless mortality report. We must redouble our efforts to address this crisis. As part of our response, it is critical that we address the drug epidemic, particularly the rise of fentanyl on our streets. The availability of Narcan coupled with housing and services is a fulcrum to our response.”

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of Public Health, said the county must implement effective strategies that address the leading causes of death among the homeless population.

“The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on people experiencing homelessness has clearly extended beyond the immediate effects of this new and deadly virus. The pandemic has exacerbated stressors already burdening this vulnerable population, contributing to increases in other causes of death even as  COVID-19 mitigation efforts were stepped up in shelters and encampments,” Ferrer said.

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