The life expectancy for those experiencing homelessness is exceptionally shorter than the average person. They are more likely to suffer from chronic illness, substance abuse, and other lethal factors. All of these causes of death are directly linked to their lack of access to proper housing.
The number of people who die without housing often goes unrecorded and unrecognized. Individuals experiencing homelessness are at a greater risk for chronic and infectious illness, poor mental health, and substance abuse. They are also more vulnerable to violence while on the street or in a shelter, and this violence can often be life-threatening. Along with this, enduring harsh weather conditions is dangerous for those without housing.
Research conducted in Poland suggests that the life expectancy for those experiencing homelessness is 17.5 years shorter than those who are not. Estimates in the U.S., however, indicate the difference is between 20 and 30 years. Most cities do not record the housing status of individuals when they die. As a result, we have little accurate data regarding the number of people experiencing homelessness that die each year. Experts calculated that between 17,500 people to 46,500 people die without housing in the United States every year. The life expectancy of a male experiencing homelessness is 56.27 years, while for women, it is 52 years.
There are several potential causes for higher mortality rates for those experiencing homelessness. One relatively common cause of death is cardiovascular disease. However, substance abuse is among the most frequent causes of death. In New York City, substance abuse accounted for 32% of those who died without housing. Trauma or violence is also a common cause, as those experiencing homelessness are more vulnerable to bias-motivated acts of violence. For individuals living in colder climates, hypothermia kills those who experience homelessness 13 times more than those who do not. Also, people who do not have proper shelter are more likely to be exposed to, and contract, COVID-19. People without housing are at a higher risk for chronic illness, making COVID-19 even more dangerous for them. Many of these causes of death are preventable through the implementation of accessible housing and rehabilitation for people experiencing homelessness.
The life expectancy for those experiencing homeless is around 20 years less than those who are not. Adequate housing is not just about having a bed to sleep in; it is also about protecting people from life-threatening diseases. Housing is a human right: it saves lives before they are cut short. By prioritizing accessible housing, we can save thousands of lives each year.