The health threat posed by living on the street may not be confined.
USA Today reports,
From Los Angeles to Kentucky, across the USA, experts said, growing homeless populations are increasingly susceptible to outbreaks of contagious diseases, including typhus, Hepatitis A and Shigella.
“This is a good example of why homelessness is a public health issue,” said Elizabeth Bowen, an assistant professor in social work at the University of Buffalo in New York. “When people don’t have access to basic needs like food, shelter, clean water and sanitation, people suffer, and population health, on the whole, is worse off.”
‘Dangerous out there’
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Americans with typhoid fever are usually infected abroad. But in Los Angeles, a Police Department employee assigned to the city’s traditional homeless epicenter became infected by the bacteria that causes the potentially deadly illness last month, and two other employees showed symptoms.
The area, known for decades as Skid Row, is overrun by rats that feast on garbage left on the streets or in alleys. Rats were spotted a few blocks away inside City Hall. In one office, carpeting was removed as a precaution to protect from fleas, which spread typhus, or droppings they may have left behind.
“It’s a little dangerous out there right now,” said Gaga Turner, 21, who said she has lived on Skid Row for three years. The vermin “crawl up everywhere.”
Christopher Harris, 58, a homeless man who lives on Skid Row, said rats and other vermin are a concern, and drinking water and bathrooms are in short supply. When it’s hard to find an available toilet, especially at night, “you go where you feel like going.” He said hand sanitizer is one of the area’s biggest needs.
Only blocks from billion-dollar skyscrapers and government offices, those living in tents or makeshift shelters use small plastic buckets as toilets. The waste is transferred into open 5-gallon pails left at street corners for crews to pick up.
For water, some fire hydrants are fitted with fountains that inhabitants line up to use.
Los Angeles County health officials swept through the district this month, issuing 85 violation citations, and they asked the city to provide an adequate number of toilets, hand-washing stations and trash cans.
The county, plagued by low apartment vacancy rates and rising rents, saw a 12% increase in its homeless population in its latest count for 2019. The city was up 16% to 58,936, three-quarters of whom live on the streets or in cars.
In response to criticism after the report, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he has more than doubled the number being housed to 21,000. He said the city’s homeless budget is $460 million, which he said is 25 times higher than four years ago.
Homelessness is not only a problem in Los Angeles.
Despite the strong economy, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s annual count of the homeless put the population nationally at 552,830 last year, up 0.3% from the year before. The number of unsheltered grew to 194,467, up 2.3%.
A Hepatitis A outbreak occurred late last year in Los Angeles. The contagious illness can cause vomiting, nausea and jaundice. It has shown up on the West Coast and around the nation, including Kentucky, Utah and New Mexico, traced to the homeless and drug use.
After cases of Hepatitis A took off in Louisville in late 2017, theliver disease spread across Kentucky, sickening more than 4,000, about half of whom had to be hospitalized, and killing at least 43.
Hepatitis A is spread primarily through fecal contact. Thorough, regular hand washing is the chief way to prevent it, said Neil Gupta, incident manager for the disease for the CDC.
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