ATLANTA — At least eight homeless people in metro Atlanta have died in cold weather since the beginning of December, according to records from Fulton County’s medical examiner.
However, it’s difficult to judge whether that’s more — or less — than other years.
WABE Radio reports that the number of deaths of homeless people is something that neither Atlanta nor the state keeps track of regularly.
Official information about the hypothermia deaths is collected by individual medical examiners, the radio station reported. But homeless advocates keep their own count — and it’s higher.
Every December, Atlanta is one of many cities where service providers hold a joint memorial service for homeless people who’ve died. Mercy Care, a homeless health services provider that organizes the service, told WABE it memorialized 60 deaths last year unofficially, a number that includes causes other than hypothermia.
Megan Hustings is with the National Homeless Coalition, which tries to keep track of how many homeless people die in the country. Many cities and states generally don’t do a consistent job of it, she said.
“Communities across the country don’t really look into the deaths of folks who don’t have a readily available address or family available. Those folks, a lot of the time, a lot of the time remain anonymous,” Hustings said, adding that homelessness itself is a fluid and extremely difficult thing to track accurately.
The coalition estimates 700 unsheltered people pass away from hypothermia each year nationally, while the range of estimated total deaths is anywhere from 3,000 to 13,000. Hustings said her group expects to put out a report on 2016 fatalities in coming weeks. She believes many state and local governments should be more active in keeping records on homeless deaths.
“If we don’t care enough about people while they’re alive, then I suppose we don’t really care enough about them after they’ve passed away to really understand why we lost them and what we can do to prevent more deaths,” she said.
Information from: WABE-FM, http://www.wabe.org/