1. An Introduction to Homelessness in Los Angeles County:
When a homeless person dies they do not often get the same sense of dying with dignity as a housed person. December 21st has been commemorated as the National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day by the National Coalition for the Homeless in partnership with the National Health Care for the Homeless Council for communities around the nation to commemorate the lives of homeless people that passed away.
Local advocates and service providers celebrate the lives of thousands of homeless people in hundreds of cities around the nation with candlelight vigils, a reading of names, and other acts to remember the lives of those lost while living on the streets of our nation.
This report is an investigation into homeless deaths in Los Angeles County between January, 2000 and May, 2007, based on statistics from the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office. It is our hope that the homeless people who make up the statistics in this report did not die in vain and that policy makers move to implement the recommendations of this report in an effort to provide the dignity they did not find while living on the streets of our community. Equally important, to implement these strategies to help prevent the untimely deaths of homeless people in the future.
Homelessness in Los Angeles:
Los Angeles has the disgrace of being the homeless capital of the United States with over 73,000 homeless people in the County of Los Angeles on any given night and over 140,000 experiencing homelessness at some point during the year.
In other words, one out of 5 people who are homeless in California is homeless in LA, while conservatively one out of every eleven people who is homeless in this country is homeless in LA. If the homeless population comprised a “city” in LA County, their composition would be the 26th largest city among the 88 cities in the county.
Overwhelmingly, the homeless population in LA are people of color, with African Americans representing nearly 50% of homeless people. 70% are male, while 30% are female and veterans, including veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq make up about 25% of the homeless population.
Currently, only 16.7% of Los Angeles County’s homeless population is sheltered, which is lowest percentage of any major city. By contrast, Philadelphia, for example, shelters 97.4% of its homeless and Denver shelters 93.3%.
Since 2005, the number of homeless people on Skid Row has increased 40% and the number of homeless people in jail is up 175%. The higher concentration of poverty and homelessness impacts the health of homeless people by enlarging the responsibilities of public services beyond their already thinly stretched reach.
It is a disgrace that such a small percentage of the homeless population in LA is sheltered. With no resources and, forced to live outside, in their cars and in abandoned buildings, it’s no wonder that hundreds of homeless people die without dignity in our community every year.
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