Mortality Rate Among The Homeless Population Is Higher Than Ever

By Maggie LaBarge

CALIFORNIA – A recent study conducted by Health Affairs found that the mortality rate among
the unhoused population has tripled from 2011 to 2020.

Although the California homeless population has increased significantly during this time, it is
becoming increasingly more dangerous for people to be living on the streets. The numbers found
in the study relate to the mortality rates of natural disasters and war.

Mental illness and addiction play a role in the rising casualties. However, researchers found
many are dying from causes that could be prevented by having shelter or access to health care.
Aspects like weather, crime, traffic, and other dangers associated with living outside of shelter.
Recently, death reports have begun to keep track of the housing status of individuals upon their
passing. The practice remains consequential for the researchers studying the mortality rate
among the unhoused population throughout the entire United States; however, they must conduct
more research to find the true underlying causes of such an increase in deaths.

Matthew Z. Fowle and Giselle Routhier, founders of, conducted the
previously mentioned study by researching the deaths of 22,134 unhoused residents in 22
different cities across the United States. They found that the mortality rate jumped from 814 per
100,000 people in 2011 to 2,752 per 100,000 in 2024.

California is experiencing unhoused deaths on a higher level since the unhoused population is
much larger. The study surveyed eight different counties – some of which did not collect data
until 2015. Among those eight counties, San Diego was found to have a considerable increase in
mortality rates.

There was a 280% increase in the death rate among the unhoused population from 2011 to 2020
in San Diego alone; there were 1,113 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2011 and 4,229 deaths per
100,000 residents in 2020.

Not only is the mortality rate skyrocketing, but the average lifespan is decreasing due to the
dangers of living without shelter. The study found that the average age was around 51 years old,
which is 27 years younger than the average lifespan of a United States citizen.

The cause of such an increase is still being determined due to many factors and the inconsistency
of tracking the unhoused population. What is certain is the rising living costs in the United States
are making it more difficult to find stable shelter and leave the dangerous streets.

The study also found that limiting the ability to sleep in encampments can lead to health issues
that can later lead to death. This is because as people experiencing homelessness are being
evicted from these encampments, it is easy to misplace valuable and essential items like

Since there are only 50 counties in the United States that record the housing status on death
reports, Fowle and Routhier hope to continue to research this topic and find the underlying
causes of this horrifying increase in mortality rate.

For more information on this topic, visit and read how you can help the
unhoused population in California.


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