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Pandemic on the streets

The economic consequences of the coronavirus may be adding to the number of homeless

A homeless encampment in downtown Los Angeles Associated Press/Photo by Mark J. Terrill (file)

Pandemic on the streets

Over the summer, experts began noticing the coronavirus didn’t seem to spread among the U.S. homeless population as much as many feared. But it’s still having an impact: The number of homeless people dying this year may be on the rise.

In 2019, 960 homeless people died in Los Angeles county by Dec. 19. This year, 962 died by mid-September. COVID-19 was apparently a factor in at least 44 of those deaths. Voice of OC, a nonprofit news agency, reported 27 deaths among the area’s homeless in August compared to 19 during the same period last year.

Dr. Paul Simon is studying the numbers for the L.A. County Public Health Department. He told the Los Angeles Times the higher death toll may be due to a larger homeless population, rather than the virus or extreme heat: “The sheer number of people living on the streets during COVID has gone up because of the economic decline and people losing their jobs and being evicted, even though there are supposed to be protections in place.”

The Rev. Andrew Bales, CEO of Union Rescue Mission, said the pandemic has reduced shelter capacity and left more people on the streets despite the city’s effort to provide hotel rooms. There are fewer safe places for homeless people to sleep, and many public spaces like libraries where they can escape the heat are closed. Bales expects the number of homeless to increase as the economic consequences of COVID-19 continue: “We need a FEMA-like, urgent, innovative response more than ever.”

Charissa Koh

Charissa is a WORLD reporter who often writes about poverty-fighting and criminal justice. She resides with her family in Atlanta.



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