Dying While Homeless: The Other Homeless Count

During the last 10 days of January in the United States, tens of thousands of persons participate in homeless counts across the country tallying the number of persons who are found living on the streets and in shelters.

An increasing number of us have become more aware of the tally of homeless persons who die while living on the streets because of National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day. On the first day of winter, December 21, the longest night of the year we remember those who have died with nowhere to call home. Too many members of the public are not fully aware that prolonged exposure to homelessness has a significant negative effect on individuals that can result in death. Homelessness is much more than the absence of physical housing; it is a tension-filled, trauma-filled, and treacherous condition that often results in injuries and fatalities.

People who were homeless have been brought to county morgues where coroner office staff determined that they died by electrocution, thermal injuries, hypothermia, environmental exposure, and blunt force injuries including traffic accidents and being crushed to death by large objects such as garbage bins.

The stories are both tragic and gruesome. The Guardian U.S. News Edition did a “review of news reports from the last decade (and) found at least 50 cases of dumpster-related homeless deaths and serious injuries.” The act of trash collection itself is fatal as noted in the story:

  • A man in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, was tipped out of a dumpster and then run over by a garbage truck;
  • In Fort Worth, Texas, a screaming man had a heart attack after the dumpster he was inside was picked up;
  • More common are situations in which homeless people, sleeping in dumpsters or sheltering from the elements, are collected by garbage or recycling trucks and compacted (and crushed) along with the trash.

Other media stories highlight more tragedies like these.

California County Counts

In order to raise more awareness about persons dying on the streets while homeless, Urban Initiatives has begun a project to complete a count of all persons who died in 2017 while homeless for all 58 counties in California. During the coming weeks and months, we will work to complete the following table based on available information about the number of persons who died in their county last year .

If you have such information or would like to comment about this post please click here.

County # of persons who died while homeless during a recent 12-month period Source
Butte  3 Butte County Public Health Department
Contra Costa
Del Norte
El Dorado
Fresno  64 Social Justice Ministry, Diocese of Fresno
Kern 25 Kern County Sheriff’s Office
Los Angeles 831 https://www.dailynews.com/2018/01/17/more-of-la-countys-homeless-are-dying-heres-why/
Merced  8 Homeless Persons Memorial Service, December 2017
Napa 8 Health and Human Services Agency, Napa County
Orange  210 https://www.ocregister.com/2017/12/19/210-homeless-people-who-died-in-orange-county-the-past-year-will-be-remembered-at-an-interfaith-service-here-are-their-names/
Riverside  85 Riverside County Sheriff-Coroner’s Office
Sacramento 71 Sacramento County 2016 Homeless Deaths Report prepared by the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness
San Benito
San Bernardino  90 San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department/Coroner’s Division
San Diego  117 http://www.newsweek.com/homeless-death-toll-rises-west-coast-affordable-housing-crisis-intensifies-750042
San Francisco
San Joaquin
San Luis Obispo
San Mateo
Santa Barbara  44 Deaths Among People Experiencing Homelessness in Santa Barbara County 1/1/2015 to 12/31/2016 By the Santa Barbara County
Homeless Death Review Team (HDRT)
Santa Clara 132 http://www.newsweek.com/homeless-death-toll-rises-west-coast-affordable-housing-crisis-intensifies-750042
Santa Cruz  50 http://kazu.org/post/homeless-deaths-reach-new-high-santa-cruz-county#stream/0
Shasta  19 Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency
Stanislaus  16 http://www.modbee.com/news/article190645929.html
Sutter  1 Sutter County Health and Human Services-for Public Health
Tulare  4 Tulare County Health & Human Services Agency
Ventura  63 http://www.vcstar.com/story/news/local/communities/ventura/2018/01/28/memorial-honors-homeless-who-have-died-ventura-county/1045886001/
Yuba  6 Yuba County Health & Human Services


  1. Tara Carruth on February 6, 2018 at 8:47 am
    • Joe Colletti, PhD on February 6, 2018 at 9:07 am

      Thanks Tara for the information. 63 homeless persons dying during the past year is more than one person per week. To read that that the number of persons that died homeless was 53 in 2016 and increased to 63 in 2017 is disturbing to say the least.

  2. Tara Carruth on February 6, 2018 at 9:45 am

    Agreed, Joe. It is very disturbing that we’ve lost so many persons for a wide variety of reasons including homicide, suicide, overdose and serious illness. This data isn’t compiled in one place so this includes all persons that the service providers and advocates knew died in 2017. I’ve asked our medical examiner office and public health if there is a formal way we can track this information. I’ve been told that deaths are tracked by cause of death and noting that someone was homeless is not always included in the data tracked by government agency.
    I’d be curious to know ways in which other communities are tracking this information.

  3. S. Washington on February 6, 2018 at 10:01 am

    My heart is broken.

  4. Cathy Raevsky on February 6, 2018 at 2:54 pm

    Butte County – 3 homeless according to death certs which show an additional 9 with unknown addresses

  5. Melody Cannon-Cutts on February 6, 2018 at 3:15 pm

    Del Norte County had 1 homeless death in December 2017 of exposure and alcoholism. He was found in a known homeless encampment.

    • Joe Colletti, PhD on February 6, 2018 at 3:29 pm

      Thank you for taking the time to provide this information

  6. Joseph Homer on February 7, 2018 at 8:12 am

    Merced County – 8 reported homeless deaths, but the number would have been a lot higher if the Coroner’s Office in Merced had been at all responsive or helpful

  7. Donnell Ewert on February 15, 2018 at 12:01 pm

    In Shasta County in 2017, there were a total of 19 homeless deaths. Please see the table below for each deceased cause of death.

    Cause of Death Count
    Accidental poisoning and exposure to noxious substances 2
    Acute kidney injury 1
    Cirrhosis of liver 1
    COPD 1
    Diabetes mellitus type ii 1
    Disorder of biliary tract and pancreas 1
    Heart failure 1
    Hypertensive disease 1
    Hyperthermia 1
    Ischemic heart diseases 3
    Malignant neoplasms 2
    Pneumonia 1
    Septicemia 1
    Unknown 1
    Viral Hepatitis 1
    Total 19

    • Joe Colletti, PhD on February 15, 2018 at 5:05 pm

      Thank you for taking the time to provide the detailed information. We now have data for 15 of 58 counties.

  8. Julie on May 17, 2022 at 3:11 am

    I’d love to start some educational resources in this community about making living outside less harsh. I’m a traveling nurse and primarily live in my tent or car by choice but I have some key skills and knowledge that make it easy and fun yet still free. I’ve found most people who are homeless on the street and not by choice don’t go about it the same way and living like that would be terrifying and traumatic. This is the first time I’ve realized there might be a gap here that’s why I’m commenting.

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