Pandemic, poverty drive record homeless death tolls in US

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The number of people dying in the streets of US cities has increased as the homeless population has aged and their life expectancies have shortened, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.

In an article titled “A Rising Tally of Lonely Deaths on the Streets”, the author said the unsheltered died in record numbers last year, an average of five per day.

Their bodies could be seen in many places such as public benches, bike paths, under freeway overpasses and stranded on the beach covered with sunlight.

“It’s like a wartime death toll in places where there is no war,” Maria Raven, an emergency room doctor in San Francisco who co-wrote a study about homeless deaths, was quoted as saying.

According to the newspaper, deaths among homeless people doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic in many cities, growing at a far faster rate. For example, according to a “homeless mortality report” issued last Tuesday by Alameda County’s Health Care for the Homeless program, 368 homeless people died there in 2020 compared to 195 in 2018 — a rise of nearly 90 percent.

The median age of the homeless who died was 63, well below the average US life expectancy of 77. “Poverty is very wearing on the body,” said Margot Kushel, a doctor specializing in homeless care. “Fifty is the new 75.”

Across California, homeless deaths are overwhelmingly happening to men, especially Black men. In Los Angeles County, men make up 67 percent of the homeless population but 83 percent of homeless deaths.

A study by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health found homeless people are 35 times as likely as the general population to die of a drug or alcohol overdose. They are also four times as likely to die of heart disease, 16 times as likely to die in a car crash, 14 times as likely to be murdered and eight times as likely to die of suicide.

“To die of heart disease, liver disease, respiratory diseases — on your own — is pretty shocking,” said David Modersbach, who led the first public study of homeless deaths in Alameda County. “These are profoundly lonely deaths.”

A 2019 study of aged homeless people led by the University of Pennsylvania projected the US population of people 65 and older experiencing homelessness will nearly triple from 40,000 to 106,000 by 2030, resulting in a public health crisis as age-related medical issues worsen, the Associated Press reported on April 10.

-The Daily Mail-China Daily News Exchange Item