Fewer homeless people in King County are dying from violent incidents, a four-year low, according to health officials.
Nevertheless their most common cause of death remains accidents related to drug and alcohol abuse, or both at the same time.
"These deaths highlight the necessity for comprehensive solutions that integrate housing, drug and alcohol treatment, human service and health care needs for people who are at-risk of becoming homeless or are living as homeless," said Director and Health Officer for Public Health - Seattle & King County Dr. David Fleming. "With early intervention and connection to services that support recovery and stability, many of these early deaths are preventable."
The Health Care for the Homeless Network, a program of Public Health – Seattle & King County, this week released its annual report of deaths among people thought to be homeless.
The 2007 report covers demographic information about the deaths of 88 people who died while homeless and fell within the jurisdiction of the King County Medical Examiner's Office.
The deaths were people who died on the streets, in encampments, in homeless shelters, and other locations. Many of the deaths were among middle aged people, accidental in nature, involved alcohol and other legal or illegal substances, or were chronic or preventable conditions.
Highlights from the 2007 report include:
In 2007 and 2006, the average age of death was 48 years, compared to 47 in 2004 and 2005;
In 2007, 77 percent of the deaths were men, a 29 percent decrease from 2006;
In 2007, the largest percentage of deaths (50 percent) were accidental, an increase from 45 percent in 2006 41 percent in 2005 and 39 percent in 2004. The majority of accidental deaths were due to acute intoxication from alcohol or other legal or illegal substances, or a combination.
Forty-two percent were due to natural causes, particularly cardiovascular disease.
Approximately 20 percent of the deaths were trauma-related, a four year low. Of these deaths, the two deaths from homicide were lower than any of the prior three years, with 11 in 2006, eight in 2005 and four in 2004.
Similar to past years, 24 percent of the incidents leading to the deaths in 2007 were outside the city of Seattle. Kent (5 deaths) and Federal Way (3 deaths) were the suburban cities with the highest number of deaths. The remaining deaths were spread across north, south, and east King County.
The number of deaths in recent years has ranged from 82 deaths in 2004 to 110 in 2006. An additional 79 people died while living homeless in 2008, bringing the five year total (2004-2008) to 453 individuals. The decreasing numbers of people presumed homeless at death is promising; however, the numbers reported are likely an underestimate, as they do not include all deaths of individuals who were living or died homeless in the county, but only those whose deaths were in the jurisdiction of the KCMEO.
The KCMEO makes every effort to locate next of kin, but when family cannot be found or cannot afford burial, the county conducts the cremation and organizes a common memorial. In March 2009, the KCMEO held the most recent 'indigent remains' multi-faith burial ceremony at the Mount Olivet cemetery in Renton.
King County's "Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness" is a regional effort to increase the availability of affordable housing and coordinate support services affecting housing and personal health.
Since 2005, the first year of the Ten Year Plan, a total of 3,344 new units of housing have opened or are under construction. Regionally, over 500 new units are being built or are opening annually, more than twice the production rate prior to the Plan.
For more information, go to www.kingcounty.gov/health/hch.
The report is available at www.kingcounty.gov/health/hch.