L.A. has great weather, yet more homeless die of the cold here than in New York
John D. Brider was found passed out near a homeless shelter and taken to Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, where he later died.
Brider, 63, had gone into cardiac arrest and oxygen had been cut off to his brain. But another, seemingly improbable, factor contributed to his death last winter: hypothermia, or loss of body heat, from being out in the cold, the Los Angeles County coroner’s office ruled.
One of the abiding myths about Los Angeles is that homeless people come here from the East Coast or Midwest because at least they won’t freeze to death.
But despite L.A.’s typical sunshine and mild temperatures, five homeless people, including Brider, died of causes that included or were complicated by hypothermia in the county last year, surpassing San Francisco and New York City, which each reported two deaths. Over the last three years, 13 people have died at least partly because of the cold, the coroner’s office said. And advocates worry that this cold, rainy winter will mean more fatalities.
Hypothermia has led to more deaths in L.A. than in colder regions because 39,000 homeless people here live outdoors — by far the most of any metropolitan area in the country. L.A.’s generally moderate Mediterranean climate is no shield, because hypothermia can set in at temperatures as high as 50 degrees, experts say.
Going without a hat can drain up to half of a person’s body heat, and wet clothing can intensify heat loss twentyfold, according to a 2007 report from the National Health Care for the Homeless Council. Underlying medical conditions, alcohol and drug use — including the use of psychiatric medications — mental illness and the privations of living outdoors intensify the risk. Brider, for example, tested positive for cocaine and had cancer of the throat and tongue, the coroner said.
“Many people experiencing homelessness suffer from malnutrition and sleep deprivation, leading to some of them remaining out in the cold. Ultimately, sometimes they die,” said Bobby Watts, the homeless council’s chief executive.
L.A.’s hypothermia cases, first reported in the Capital & Main online publication, are a tiny fraction of the overall homeless death toll, which climbed from 720 in 2016 to 900 last year. But hypothermia is a particularly appalling , and preventable, way to die.
“The idea that people froze to death is really horrible; it is a shared societal tragedy,” said Jim O’Connell, founding director of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, who researches hypothermia among homeless people.