Get PolitiFact in your inbox.
If Your Time is short
- A recent count of the homeless population found that 41,980 unhoused people were living in the city of Los Angeles.
- A study by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health found that 1,988 unhoused people died across the county from April 2020 through March 2021. The figure averages to about five deaths a day.
- Los Angeles County is home to about 10 million people; the city of Los Angeles has a population of about 4 million.
Hoping to address homelessness, newly elected Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass unveiled a plan to move swaths of unhoused people from encampments into hotels and motels during her first 100 days in office.
In a national TV interview, Bass said her "Inside Safe" housing plan will be voluntary and will not involve sweeps, where city officials forcibly clear out encampments.
"This is not coercing people. This is not ticketing people or incarcerating people," Bass said during a Dec. 18 interview on NBC’s "Meet the Press."
Bass said during the interview that Los Angeles has around 40,000 unhoused people, and homelessness is so severe "literally five people a day die on our streets."
Bass’ number for deaths is not entirely accurate.
Bass’s office didn’t immediately respond to our query about her source for the figure on daily deaths. So we looked through a report from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, which released its 2022 point-in-time count of the unhoused population in Los Angeles County in September. The agency coordinates housing and services for individuals and families in the county experiencing homelessness.
Its count found that 69,144 people in the county lived without a permanent home. Of those numbers, around 41,980 people experiencing homelessness were in the city of Los Angeles.
Although a count was not conducted in 2021 because of COVID-19, the agency said policies enacted during the pandemic including eviction moratoriums and a statewide initiative to provide emergency housing for unhoused people to stem the spread of the virus helped slow the growth of homelessness in Los Angeles.
Bass’ statement on five unhoused people dying a day is a bit shakier than her estimate for the city’s unhoused population.
The figure appears to come from a recent study that looked at deaths of people experiencing homelessness across Los Angeles County one year before and after the start of the pandemic. The report did not include a city-by-city breakdown of where the deaths occurred.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health found that 1,988 unhoused people died across the region from April 2020 through March 2021, averaging about five deaths per day. Drug overdoses caused a majority of the deaths among the county’s unhoused population, about 715 deaths.
The report found 309 people died of coronary heart disease, 179 of COVID-19, 150 of traffic injury, 104 of homicide, 64 of suicide and 57 from unintentional injuries.
Los Angeles County has a population of about 10 million. The population of the city of Los Angeles is closer to 4 million.
While COVID-19 was the third-leading cause of death among the unhoused population, the report said the pandemic "may have exacerbated stressors already present in the lives of (people experiencing homelessness, leading to increases in other causes of death."
Jennifer Hark Deitz, CEO of the local nonprofit People Assisting the Homeless, told PolitiFact in a statement that the homelessness crisis has existed hand-in-hand with the housing crisis in the city for decades, with one feeding the other. A coordinated outreach effort to move people from encampments into housing is a necessary step to avoid further traumatizing unhoused people, Dietz said.
Bass said "literally five people a day die on our streets" from homelessness.
The estimate Bass used appears to be drawn from a study looking at homeless deaths across Los Angeles County, not just the city.
The study found 1,988 unhoused people in all of Los Angeles County died from April 2020 through March 2021 — about five deaths per day.
The study is the most recent information the county has on homeless deaths, comparing death rates one year before and after the start of the pandemic, and may not reflect the current trend in the city of Los Angeles, where Bass is mayor. We rate this claim Mostly True.
NBC News, "Meet the Press" - Dec. 18, 2022 show transcript, Dec. 18, 2022
The Associated Press, "New LA mayor Bass declares homeless emergency as term begins," Dec. 12, 2022
Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, "Greater L.A. Homeless Count Suggests Pandemic Era Policies Prevented Surge in Homelessness," Sept. 8, 2022
California Department of Social Services, Project Roomkey/Housing and Homelessness COVID Response, accessed Dec. 20, 2022
Email with Jennifer Hark Deitz, CEO of People Assisting the Homeless, Dec. 20, 2022
Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, "Mortality among People Experiencing Homelessness in Los Angeles County: One Year Before and After the Start of the COVID-19 Pandemic," April 2022
Read About Our Process
In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.