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The Los Angeles metropolitan area has seen its homeless population rise to nearly 60,000, following a 12% uptick in 2018 alone, according to recent figures—and, unfortunately, those who lack housing in the region have more to worry about than just not having a roof over their heads. As Contagion® reported in February, an outbreak of typhus plagued the city’s homeless community late in 2018 and, like many urban areas across the United States, case clusters of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, as well as hepatitis in the area, have been linked with injection drug use among those “sleeping rough” and others.
To get a sense of the problem in LA, and assess possible solutions to these public health challenges, we reached out to a number of experts working on the frontlines of the crisis in the region. Here are their responses, which have been edited for length and clarity.
Jeffrey D. Klausner, MD, MPH, Professor of medicine and public health, UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine/UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. His research work focuses on HIV and STIs among at-risk youths, including the homeless: “Homelessness and the size of homeless encampments has gotten substantially worse…due to a combination of political and economic factors. Some call those encampments ‘Trumpvilles,’ reminiscent of Hoovervilles during the Great Depression. Poor political leadership locally and lack of caring among the larger population has further contributed to ineffective solutions…I am not sure what LA’s political leadership understands or how highly they are prioritizing the identifying short and longer term solutions to the crisis…I’d create local health outreach teams to offer hepatitis A vaccination; basic health services, such as screening and treatment for acute and chronic conditions; and install port-a-potties, handwashing [stations], and potable water units…Communicable diseases may be spread from one population to another and the increased costs of taking care of some populations in emergency rooms, or in substance abuse treatment or mental health programs, impacts our overall ability to do health promotion and provide health services for the general population.”