Jul 20, 2022 - News

Hundreds of people likely experiencing homelessness have died in metro Phoenix

Data: Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner. Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner. Chart: Axios Visuals

More than 300 people experiencing homelessness died in Maricopa County in the first six months of the year.

  • A database provided by the medical examiner's office shows that investigators confirmed 337 people died and another 160 people's housing status could not be confirmed.
  • The county said not all of the unconfirmed cases were people who were experiencing homelessness but advocates tell Axios Phoenix many were.

Driving the news: The number of people experiencing homelessness and not staying in a shelter has increased by more than 200% since 2016, according to the Maricopa Association of Governments.

  • People experiencing chronic homelessness have a life expectancy between 42 and 52 years. The average life expectancy in the U.S. is about 79, according to Homeless Deaths Count, an organization tracking the crisis nationally.

State of play: Many of the deaths were caused, at least in part, by their living situation.

  • Experts say it's harder to control chronic conditions like diabetes or heart disease in the heat or without proper storage for medications.
  • Metro Phoenix has an extreme shortage of shelter beds and efforts to add more have been slow.

What they're saying: "The simple fact is if they were sheltered they wouldn't have died. It's that simple," Wendy Johnson, Justa Center executive director, tells Axios Phoenix.

  • Her organization provides respite and resources to older adults experiencing homelessness.

By the numbers: The medical examiner determined a cause in 322 of the nearly 500 deaths. Of those, almost 70% were accidental.

  • The majority involved drug use.
  • More than 30 people were hit and killed by drivers. Another five were hit while riding a bike.
  • A 59-year-old man was killed when he was run over by a garbage truck while sleeping in an alley.

Black people and American Indians are overrepresented in the metro Phoenix homeless population and in deaths.

  • About 13% of the people who died were Black and 10% were American Indians.
  • About 7% of Maricopa County residents are Black and 3% are American Indians.
  • Almost half of the deceased were white.

Of note: More seniors are becoming homeless, often because they can no longer afford housing, Johnson said.

  • More than 160 people who died were 55 or older.

What's next: The dangerous summer heat is likely to cause even more deaths.

How to help: Organizations across metro Phoenix are asking for volunteers and donations to support the homeless population, The Arizona Republic reports.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to show the number of confirmed deaths of people experiencing homelessness and the number of deaths of people whose housing status could not be confirmed.


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