A record-breaking number of homeless New Yorkers died last year-—here's how to help

By Alanna Schubach | January 19, 2017 - 9:59AM 

According to Gothamist, a troubling new report from the city's Department of Homeless Services reveals that 239 homeless individuals died in 2016, the highest amount in 10 years. As of November 2016, there were 62,848 homeless people in New York City, writes the Coalition for the Homeless, a number not seen since the Great Depression.

The increase in deaths seems to be due not only to a growing homeless population, but also to an increase in opioid dependence. Drug overdose was the most common cause of death in homeless people, and homeless advocates told Gothamist that fentanyl and K2 in particular are posing serious dangers to already vulnerable New Yorkers.

The link to drug dependency 

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is intended to be used for chronic pain management, was to blame for a record-breaking number of overdoses in NYC last year, reports NPR. And K2, a synthetic cannabinoid, has sent 6,000 New Yorkers to the emergency room since 2015, and can cause heart attacks, according to the Department of Health

"The opioid crisis is real for people who are housed and are homeless," says Giselle Routhier, policy director for Coalition for the Homeless. "There are increasing reports of people overdosing in shelters on opioids, which makes overdose prevention all the more important." 

One way the average New Yorker can help? Routhier notes that anyone can be trained to administer Narcan, a nasal spray or injection that can save the life of someone who is overdosing. "Once you're trained to administer it, you have a kit, and then you can use it when you're in the presence of someone who you think is overdosing," Routhier explains. "We've been pushing the city to make sure as many people as possible are trained to use it." (The city has more information here on where to find Narcan (also called Naloxone) and how to use it, and the state Department of Health has a calendar of scheduled Narcan training sessions here.)

The need to address homelessness in the city

Perhaps even more essential than learning how to help in the event you witness an overdose is becoming more aware, in general, of the city's ever-increasing homeless problem, and finding ways to advocate for change. Last year, Governor Cuomo promised in his State of the State address to allocate billions for the construction of new supportive housing for homeless New Yorkers, which Routhier says for the most part has not yet been released. 

"There's close to $2 billion sitting there," she says. "We've been calling on the governor week after week to demand that he follow through on his promise." 

In fact, just last week, writes the Albany Times Union, homeless advocates visited the state capitol in person to drop off thousands of emails asking Cuomo to make good on last year's address. 

But if visits to Albany aren't in the cards for you, small acts of kindness on a day-to-day basis go a long way. "If you see a homeless neighbor and they appear to be in distress and need medical attention, call 911," Routhier advises. "Generally engage with folks. If you see someone regularly on your commute, talk to them, find out what's going on. It makes the problem more real." 


Alanna Schubach

Contributing writer

Contributing editor Alanna Schubach has over a decade of experience as a New York City-based freelance journalist.

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