New report shows causes for unhoused deaths

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The heat can be deadly for the unhoused, but that’s just one cause of death for the rapidly growing homeless population. Homeless mortality experts said the number of homeless deaths in Maricopa County last year was “extremely high,” “staggering” and “extraordinary.”

Nearly 800 people experiencing homelessness died in the county in 2022. In recent years, the heat has been among Maricopa County’s biggest killers of people experiencing homelessness, raising the question of just how deadly this extremely hot year will be.

“This year, 2023, so far we are slightly ahead of last year. In 2022, we had a minimum of 800 deaths, likely a lot more that are still unconfirmed. This year, in the first six months of the year, we have had over 300, and July, which is not yet part of that count, is expected to be the deadliest month. It has been the deadliest month every year since we started tracking this in late 2019,” said Juliette Rihl, a housing insecurity reporter at The Arizona Republic.

Experts also say there are solutions to reduce the number of unhoused people who die preventable deaths if the political will can be found to implement them, including housing, health care and harm reduction.

“There’s three solutions that most of the experts I talk to mention: Housing, harm reduction and healthcare. Harm reduction is preventing overdoses, so making sure people have fentanyl test strips, and making sure they have NARCAN®. Of course healthcare is important, because being on the streets really exacerbates existing health conditions. But the biggest thing that experts agree would reduce the number of deaths of people experiencing homelessness is getting these people into housing,” said Rihl.

Rihl believes the solutions exist, but she doesn’t know if the political will is there from the legislature. She believes it’s a problem that will take funding and support from all levels of government.

Juliette Rihl; Housing Insecurity Reporter at The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com

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