Alex Shpungin talks with a friend, Dorea, right, while sitting in his tent on Tuesday, January 15, 2019, near the intersection of Columbia Street and Alaskan Way South in Seattle. Shpungin has lived at this location for 3 months and hopes to stay there as long as possible.
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Alex Shpungin talks with a friend, Dorea, right, while sitting in his tent on Tuesday, January 15, 2019, near the intersection of Columbia Street and Alaskan Way South in Seattle. Shpungin has lived at this location for 3 months and hopes to stay there as long as possible.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Deaths of homeless people jump in Seattle area

Deaths among people who were homeless in King County that were investigated by the Medical Examiner's office more than doubled in the past five years, according to a new report.

The report (see summary below) says that in 2018 the office investigated 194 deaths – the most ever. That's up from 169 in 2017 and 87 in 2014.

Of the deaths, 73 were attributed to natural causes. That's 38 percent of all deaths.

"The highest causes of death for people who are homeless are exactly the same as the highest causes of death in the general population, so things like heart disease, cancer, all the typical chronic diseases that people have,” said John Gilvar, a manager with the county's Health Care for the Homeless.

“What's different is homelessness works against people in lots of various, insidious ways to create barriers to recovering from life-threatening illnesses or avoiding infectious diseases or stabilizing chronic conditions that can lead to complications that are either debilitating or life threatening.”

The second-leading cause of death was drug overdose – 63 deaths.

King County homeless deaths in 2018 by cause.
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King County homeless deaths in 2018 by cause.
Credit: King County Medical Examiner's Office

The report was released Thursday morning. It cautions that it did not include all deaths of homeless people, because the office investigates only those that are “unexpected, sudden, violent, suspicious, and/or lack a known cause.”

Other findings of the report:

  • 82 percent of those who died were male.
  • African Americans and Native Americans were over-represented. Seventy-five percent of those who died were white.
  • 10 people died by homicide, 14 by suicide.
  • The median age of those who died was 54. The overall King County median in 2018 was 79.
  • Over half of the deaths occurred outdoors.

You can see other details in the summary below or find more information at the medical examiner's website here.