Los Angeles Numbers Show 'Homelessness' is Really a Substance Abuse and Mental Illness Problem

Los Angeles County is glibly decorated with billboards declaring, "Homes End Homelessness. You In?"

Except LA's own numbers keep showing that not having a home is a symptom of the problem. Not the problem. 

The current headline for the story is, "L.A. County’s homeless population is growing — but not as fast as they’re dying". The URL suggests a more realistic and less outrage-driven title. "la-me-ln-homeless-people-death-unsheltered-substance-abuse".

Substance abuse is a common theme.

Last year alone, 918 people died. And in the last five years, deaths have jumped 76%, outpacing the growth of the homeless population, according to an analysis of county coroner data by Kaiser Health News.

So far, health officials and experts have been unable to pinpoint a single cause for the increase, but say rising substance abuse may be a major reason.

Substance abuse and mental illness are the causes of most homelessness. That's why trying to offer living space doesn't work.

Drugs and alcohol played a direct role in at least a quarter of the deaths of homeless people over the past five years, according to the analysis from the county coroner’s office. The substances also likely contributed to many more deaths, including those whose deaths were related to liver and heart problems.

Raymond Thill was just 46 when he died last year of what his wife, Sherry Thill, called complications related to alcoholism. The couple had been homeless for many years before moving into a small apartment in South Los Angeles shortly before his death.

Thill said her husband often drank vodka throughout the day, and had been in and out of the hospital because of liver and other health problems. He tried rehab and she tried taking the alcohol away from him. Nothing worked.

“His mind was set,” she said. “So I took care of him.”

In the end, Thill said, cirrhosis left her husband jaundiced, swollen and unable to keep food down.

These are tragic stories. And they have nothing to do with home availability. 

If we really want to deal with homelessness, we have to deal with behavioral issues and mental illness. That means getting people off the street, instead of enabling their behavior, with all the ugly consequences that follow.

Deaths by trauma or violence were common among the homeless identified in the coroner’s data: At least 800 people died from trauma, and of those, about 200 were shot or stabbed.

This is what 'legalizing' vagrancy is leading to. This isn't compassion. It's the worst sort of cruelty.