For the last month I have been working on a data set to better understand unsheltered homelessness. Yes, I have been working on that when I should have been blogging. And returning emails. And other functions necessary for running a business (which I am reminded of from time to time that OrgCode is).
Since early 2015, over 5% of the population included in the data set has died.
To be clear, three types of people died: someone's parent, someone's sibling, someone's child.
They were old and young. They were of different races and ethnicities. They had different lengths of homelessness.
As you might suspect and expect, the rate of death is higher than the general population, where just under 1% of the population dies every year.
Death is something I have come to embrace in my work on homelessness. It doesn't get any easier, nor do I get immune to it. I have given up thinking that it results in urgency for people to act. My newsfeed had this story in it today: www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/homeless-man-spends-dying-hours-at-vancouver-tim-hortons-1.4689842 where a person who is homeless spends their dying hours in a coffee shop. At least it makes the news.
Across all age cohorts, people who are homeless are three times at greater risk of death. The literature shows that the average age of death of a person who is homeless is about 50. In 1900 that was the life expectancy. People who are homeless get the same illnesses that housed people get, just at rates 6 times higher. They also experience advanced chronological ageing.
Rates of death in individual cities seems to be on the rise too. Maybe it is opioids. Maybe it is weather phenomenon. Maybe it is known causes of death amongst people who are homeless like higher rates of cardiovascular disease. The Washington Post did an interesting article on the matter back in April: www.washingtonpost.com/news/national/wp/2018/04/13/feature/surge-in-homeless-deaths-linked-to-opioids-extreme-weather-soaring-housing-cost/
What I do know is that we need to act with urgency if we are going to reverse what seems to be the new normal. We need to prioritize people for housing, knowing that some of those we house will also die, but with greater dignity. We need to focus our attention on cures to homelessness, not bandaids. Housing is good health care.