Study: 'unsheltered homeless' in Boston see far higher death rate than average

BOSTON — A ten-year study of Boston’s homeless population showed those living on the streets – as opposed to those staying in shelters – had a far higher mortality rate.

The study, published in May, was authored by Dr. Jill Roncarati of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Launched in 2000, the study followed homeless individuals over the age of 18 who had checked in over that summer with the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program’s (BHCHP’s) Street Team.

Individuals were seen by members of the street team at clinic visits and were divided into two categories: those who stay overnight at shelters and those who sleep on park benches, church doorsteps and other unprotected locations.

Members of the latter group are called “rough sleepers.”

The data from 2000-2009 was collected and processed between 2015 and 2016.

The study showed people who slept unprotected on the streets had a mortality rate 10 times the average mortality rate of any individual in Massachusetts.

According to the author, unintentional overdoses are the leading cause of death among the homeless population. However, this study took into account all causes when calculating mortality rates among sheltered homeless and rough sleepers.

“All-cause mortality rates in the unsheltered cohort were nearly 3 times greater than those in an adult homeless cohort and almost 10 times greater than in the Massachusetts population,” Roncarati wrote. “Our cause-specific mortality findings underscore a high burden of substance use in this population.”

The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

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