Addressing the popular myth that people migrate to warmer places to be homeless, this article in the Los Angeles Times by Gale Holland outlines that five homeless individuals died from causes that included hypothermia in Los Angeles last year.
By comparison, two homeless people in New York City and two in San Francisco died of hypothermia in the same period.
“Hypothermia has led to more deaths in L.A. than in colder regions because 39,000 homeless people here live outdoors — by far the most of any metropolitan area in the country. L.A.’s generally moderate Mediterranean climate is no shield, because hypothermia can set in at temperatures as high as 50 degrees, experts say.”
A 2007 report from the National Health Care for the Homeless Council suggests that going without a hat can “drain up to half of a person’s body heat, and wet clothing can intensify heat loss twentyfold.”
Sleep deprivation and malnutrition coupled with addictions and mental illness make living outdoors even more dangerous. Dying of hypothermia is “a shared societal tragedy” states researcher Jim O’Connell, director of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program.
In Los Angeles about 31,500 people were homeless in 2018, down five percent from 2017. An estimated 9,000 people became homeless for the first time in 2017. While Los Angeles has added over 1600 shelter beds and provides another 1,200 beds in the coldest months, workers have identified homeless people with “severe and persistent mental illness” as most vulnerable to staying outside and becoming hypothermic.
In response Los Angeles county has created a Homeless Outreach Mobile Engagement program with thirty staff and psychiatric support to visit camping places where homeless people gather. There are plans to double this support in the coming years.
A new shelter “Hope for Home” in Pomona is a 16,000 square foot fabric structure that provides 200 winter shelter beds and can accommodate people in crisis and the disabled. When completed this facility will integrate medical, drug treatment and mental health resources at the location to assist homeless clients in getting aid at a one stop shop. Specialized councillors also work with clients that have challenges that have kept them banned or out of shelters.
There is a remarkable story about how Pomona went about creating this shelter and you can read a bit of the background here. The City of Pomona contributed 6 million dollars from housing bond proceeds towards the 10 million dollar project. But as one local politician stated homelessness was not going away and it was important to address it in the community.
“It’s a little different when you’re trying to bring the tallest building to Los Angeles and billions of dollars are flowing. But when you’re trying to build a place where people who are most in need, sometimes those funds aren’t always there.”