NEW YORK—The number of deaths among New York City’s homeless decreased from approximately 190 in 2010 to about 150 in 2011, reported Department of Homeless Services (DHS) Commissioner Seth Diamond at a City Council hearing on Tuesday.
City Council renewed and made permanent legislation requiring quarterly reports on the number of homeless deaths that was set to expire this month.
“That has really helped tremendously,” said Diamond of the legislation. By learning more about the deaths, DHS has better targeted its prevention initiatives.
Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death among the homeless, but it is also a leading cause of death in the city as a whole. DHS now requires its shelters and nonprofit contractors to meet healthier nutritional guidelines.
62 percent non-sheltered
38 percent sheltered
57 percent occurred in hospitals
17 percent occurred outdoors
5 percent occurred in homeless shelters
21 percent occurred in other locations
81 percent were male
19 percent were female
38 percent died in Brooklyn
33 percent in the Bronx
21 percent in Manhattan
5 percent in Queens
2 percent on Staten Island
A leading cause of death for homeless children is improper sleeping arrangements in shelters. DHS educates parents in shelters and inspects sleeping arrangements for children.
More data has helped DHS set forth precise guidelines for helping the homeless in extreme weather. When the thermostat drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, code blue goes into effect. DHS doubles the number of outreach personnel on patrol and checks in with known homeless people every two hours to make sure they are okay. Outreach staff can call the police to force the mentally ill into hospitals or shelters.
Diamond says one-third of the city’s homeless are mentally ill and one-quarter are drug users, with some overlap between the two categories, though the numbers are hard to pin down.
Currently, 400 DHS staff members are trained on how to prevent a death due to overdose and more are in training.