PHILADELPHIA — New data from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health (PDPH) and the Philadelphia Office of Homeless Services (OHS) shows that America’s nationwide opioid crisis is fueling a dramatic increase in deaths among Philadelphians experiencing homelessness.
From 2009 to 2018, deaths among Philadelphians experiencing homelessness have more than tripled, from 43 in 2009 to 132 in 2018. This increase far outpaces national growth in America’s street homeless population that happened during the same time period.
Currently, drug-related deaths account for nearly 60 percent of deaths among Philadelphians experiencing homelessness, increasing from 37 percent from 2009-2015 to 59 percent from 2016-2018.
Of all current drug-related deaths among Philadelphia’s homeless, 86 percent involved opioids, with nearly three quarters involving the hyper potent synthetic opioid fentanyl.
“These numbers are further evidence of the tragic impact that the nationwide opioid epidemic continues to have locally in our neighborhoods,” said Mayor Kenney. “This will never be acceptable, and it’s why the City has taken extensive local action to fight against this national crisis, both through the Mayor’s Task Force to Combat the Opioid Epidemic and the Philadelphia Resilience Project, as well as through suing opioid manufacturers. While we’ve made important progress, we have much more work ahead.”
The City released the data ahead of Homeless Memorial Day on Thursday, December 19. Philadelphians will observe Homeless Memorial Day that day from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Thomas Paine Plaza, 1401 John F. Kennedy Boulevard.
“Homeless Memorial Day is when we reflect on those lost and focus on America’s combined homelessness and affordable housing crisis,” said Liz Hersh, Director of the Office of Homeless Services. “This data shows what a profound, and tragic, effect the nationwide crisis is having on states, towns, and cities like Philadelphia. Homelessness is not an unsolvable problem — even when it is opioid related. It’s a public health crisis with a straightforward solution: making sure that everyone has a safe, affordable place to call home. Housing ends homelessness and saves lives. It is the foundation for recovery.”
Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said, “The opioid crisis is both exacerbating the homelessness problem in Philadelphia and increasing the number of homeless people who die of drug overdoses. The health department is working with many other City agencies to reduce the number of people who become addicted and help those who are addicted – homeless or not – begin drug treatment.”
Since 2016, the City of Philadelphia has increased the number of treatment beds, empaneled the Mayor’s Task Force to Combat the Opioid Epidemic, launched the Philadelphia Resilience Project, increased low barrier treatment options, launched campaigns about treatment availability, and engaged communities through education along with multiple other initiatives devoted to reducing overdose deaths.
Other information released includes demographic information of Philadelphians experiencing homelessness who died. Males are disproportionately represented, accounting for about 80 percent of all homeless deaths. In terms of race, 48 percent of all Philadelphians experiencing homelessness who died between 2016 and 2018 were non-Hispanic white, 38 percent were non-Hispanic Black, and 13 percent were Hispanic/Latino.
The City encourages Philadelphians who need treatment for addiction to call 888-545-2600 where help is available 24/7.
Philadelphians can also request a street homeless outreach team 24/7, 365 anywhere in Philadelphia by calling 215-232-1984 if they see someone who is homeless in need of shelter or other services.
The full report is in the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s latest issue of CHART and available online.