Women Dying While Homeless in Los Angeles County – Part I: Trends

-3 deceased women per week were noted as “indigent – homeless”
by the County of Los Angeles Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner in 2017-

-In 2013, the total number of deaths among homeless women was 62,
which rose to 146 in 2017 and represents an increase of
more than 200% within the five-year period-

Honor Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day: December 21, 2018

Sofia Herrera, PhD and Joe Colletti, PhD
-Hub for Urban Initiatives©
December 2018

This report is based on publicly accessible data from the County of Los Angeles Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner related to homelessness. Acquired data from the Public Services Division reveals that for 491 women examined between 2013 and 2017, the “type of residence” was noted as “indigent – homeless.”

Figure 1 reveals the number of deaths of homeless women between 2013 and 2017. Each year the total number increases.

In 2013, the total number of deaths was 62, which rose to 146 in 2017. This represents an increase of 84 homeless women or more than 200% within the five-year period.

Figure 1. Number of Deaths of Homeless Persons in Los Angeles County: 2013 – 2017

Figure 2 notes the increases by year. The range of increases is between 19.3% and 32.4% for an average increase of 24.1. 

Figure 2. Increases in the Total Number of Deaths by Year

Year # of Deaths Increase
# %
2013 62
2014 74 12 19.3
2015 98 24 32.4
2016 111 13 13.3
2017 146 35 31.5
Total: 491

Data fields obtained by the County of Los Angeles Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Public Services Division included race/ethnicity and age.

Race/Ethnicity

The categories used by the County of Los Angeles Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner are included in Figure 3, which reveals that the largest number and percentage of the 491 homeless women who died between 2013 and 2017 were Caucasians. Blacks were next, followed by Hispanic/Latin Americans.

Figure 3. Breakdown by Race/Ethnicity for the Period between 2013 and 2017

Figure 4 presents a breakdown of Race/Ethnicity by year for the 2013-2017 period. Each year approximately half of the women who died were Caucasian. Nearly one-fourth or more of the women who died were Black each year, except in 2017. More Hispanic/Latin American women died in 2017 than Black women.

Figure 4. Breakdown by Race/Ethnicity by Year

Race/Ethnicity 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
  # % # % # % # % # %
American Indian 1 1.6 0 0.0 0 0.0 1 0.9 1 0.7
Asian 0 0.0 1 1.4 0 0.0 1 0.9 5 3.4
Black 15 24.2 21 28.4 30 30.6 29 26.1 28 19.2
Caucasian 32 51.6 33 44.6 55 56.1 53 47.8 78 53.4
Hispanic/Latin American

13

21.0 16 21.6 13 13.3 25 22.5 34

23.3

Pacific Islander 1 1.6 0 0.0 0 0.0 0 0.0 0 0.0
Unknown 0 0.0 1 1.4 0 0.0 1 0.9 0 0.0
Missing 0 0.0 2 2.7 0 0.0 1 0.9 0 0.0
Total 62 100 74 100 98 100 111 100 146 100

            Age

The vast majority (79.4%) of the women were age 40+ and more than half (55%) were 50+. Approximately one out of five (20.6%) were age 60+ and 26 women or 5.3% were age 70+

Figure 5. Breakdown By Age

The table below provides a breakdown by age for each of the five years. Each year, approximately three-fourths of homeless persons who died were age 40+ and more than half were age 50+.

Figure 6. Breakdown by Age by Year

  2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
  # % # % # % # % # %
Age 18 – 24 2 3.2 1 1.4 4 4.1 7 6.3 7 4.8
Age 25 – 39 6 9.7 14 18.9 10 10.2 21 18.9 34 23.3
Age 40 – 49 19 30.6 18 24.3 29 29.6 21 18.9 31 21.2
Age 50 – 59 24 38.7 29 39.2 35 35.7 33 29.7 45 30.8
Age 60 – 69 7 11.3 10 13.5 16 16.3 21 18.9 21 14.4
Age 70 – 79 2 3.2 1 1.4 3 3.1 6 5.4 6 4.1
Age 80 – 89 2 3.2 1 1.4 1 1.0 2 1.8 2 1.4
Total 62 100 74 100 98 100 111 100 146 100

Manner of Death

The most common manner of death was accidents. Nearly two-thirds (61.7%) of women who died suffered an accident, which included drug overdose, environmental exposure, structural fires, and traffic and blunt force injuries involving vehicles and trains. More than one-fourth (29.1%) died by natural causes that involved heart disease, hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS, and a wide-range of other illnesses and diseases. Seven percent of the women were a victim of homicide or committed suicide.

Figure 7. Breakdown by Manner of Death for the Period between 2013 and 2017

Figure 8 reveals that the number of women who died by accidents, homicide, and suicide has more than doubled (135%) between 2013 and 2017. As previously noted, accidents were the most common manner of death. The number and percentage of women who died by accident increased from 35 (56.5%) in 2013 to 97 (66.4%) in 2017 respectively.

 

Figure 8. Breakdown by Manner of Death by Year

  2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
  # % # % # % # % # %
Accident 35 56.5 46 62.2 58 59.2 67 60.4 97 66.4
Natural 20 32.3 22 29.7 32 32.7 37 33.3 32 21.9
Homicide 2 3.2 2 2.7 4 4.1 5 4.5 5 3.4
Suicide 2 3.2 3 4.1 3 3.1 2 1.8 6 4.1
Undetermined 1 1.6 0 0.0 0 0.0 0 0.0 5 3.4
Missing Data 2 3.2 1 1.4 1 1.0 0 0.0 1 0.7
Total 62 100 74 100 98 100 111 100 146 100

Trends

Homelessness is much more than the absence of physical housing, it is a tension-filled, trauma-filled, and treacherous-filled condition that too often results in fatalities. Prolonged exposure to homelessness has a significant negative effect on individuals that can result in death, especially for women.

High rates of alcohol and drug use; pre-exposure to accidents, poor access to health care, and high levels of stress are just some of the factors that take their toll. For the women in this report common accidents included drug overdose, fires, falling from heights, being struck by vehicles and trains, and being crushed by an object. Natural causes involved infections, disease, seizures, and allergies that were possibly compounded by the difficulty of being homeless, including inclement weather.

Other data, stories, and recent studies show that while homeless, women often experience traumatic experiences while living on the streets. Attacked, abused, and often forgotten: Women now make up 1 in 3 homeless people in L.A. is one such story. Surviving Skid Row: Women’s Stories of Assault, Fear, And Finding Friendship is another. The data compiled in a recent study by the Downtown Women’s Center revealed that more than 90% of women in Los Angeles’ Skid Row reported surviving “physical or sexual violence at some point during their lifetimes, experiences that are compounded by the trauma of homelessness.” Thus, for the women noted in this report, their daily lives were likely filled with lots of trauma prior to their traumatic deaths on the streets.

Dying while homeless is a burgeoning crisis that demands systemic changes that involve concerted efforts to get homeless women and men into appropriate affordable housing. Such an effort has begun to unfold in Los Angeles County and in the City of Los Angeles, which we hope will reverse the trends revealed by the data sited in this report.

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