Overdoses, not COVID-19, lead to spike in homeless deaths in Los Angeles
LOS ANGELES – Nearly 2,000 homeless people died in Los Angeles County in the first year of the pandemic, a 56% increase from the previous year, mostly due to drug overdoses, authorities announced.
Between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021, the county recorded 1,988 homeless deaths, compared to 1,271 deaths during the same period a year earlier, according to the report.
In those two years, drug overdoses were the leading cause of death, but increased by 78% in the first year of the pandemic. In the pre-pandemic year, the Department of Public Health reported 402 fatal overdoses. In the year following the outbreak, the number almost doubled to 715, according to the report.
The report revealed that 179 homeless people died from COVID-19 in the first year of the pandemic.
“The findings of this report reflect a true state of emergency,” First District Supervisor Hilda L. Solis said in a statement. “In a civil society, it is unacceptable for any of us not to be deeply disturbed by the shocking needs documented in this year’s homeless mortality report.”
A study of homeless deaths in San Francisco published last month showed similar results: Between March 2020 and March 2021, 331 homeless deaths were recorded in San Francisco, more than double the number of any previous year, with the leading cause of death being drug overdose. , according to a study conducted by the University of California, San Francisco and the city’s Department of Public Health.
Los Angeles County is home to the Skid Row neighborhood, known for poverty and drugs and where Los Angeles’ homeless population was once largely confined. Today, rows of tents, cardboard shelters, battered motorhomes and makeshift plywood structures are familiar sights in the country’s second most populous city.
The pandemic has likely exacerbated an already growing drug and overdose problem driven by the prevalence of fentanyl, authorities said. Methamphetamine was implicated in the majority of deaths, at 75%, about the same as the year before. But fentanyl’s involvement in overdose deaths nearly doubled to 45%, according to the report.
“The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on homeless people has clearly extended beyond the immediate effects of this deadly new virus,” said Los Angeles Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. “The pandemic has exacerbated the stressors that are already weighing on this vulnerable population.”
Homeless youth, Latinos and blacks are driving the rise in fatal overdoses, the report said.
Coronary heart disease was the second leading cause of death in the first year of the pandemic, accounting for 309 deaths and an increase of almost 30% from the previous year, according to the report.