Unhoused people make up just less than three-quarters of one percent of Los Angeles County’s population, but they accounted for 5 of every 12 deaths from heat illness or exposure last year, the LA Times reports based on data from the coroner’s office. That number, as high as it is, likely undercounts the full toll of extreme heat on the county’s unhoused people because causes of death are often attributed to medical conditions exacerbated by hyperthermia instead of the extreme heat itself.
“Because of exposure to the elements, people who are homeless are going to continue to be at the front lines of issues related to climate change,” Sherin Varghese, an organizer for Ktown for All, a homeless outreach and advocacy group, told the LA Times. They’re absorbing the impact to a greater degree.” Climate change, mainly caused by the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels, is making extreme heat events worse and more frequent.
Extreme heatwaves, like the “heat dome” last August responsible for about half of LA County’s 2021 unhoused heat deaths, are especially dangerous because high nighttime temperatures rob the body of a chance to cool down. (LA Times $; Climate Signals background: Extreme heat and heatwaves)