People experiencing homelessness are susceptible to many adverse health events, including violence. The purpose of this study was to provide a descriptive analysis of homeless individuals who suffered a violent death in Maryland. Characterizing these deaths will provide a basis for additional analyses that can inform violence prevention activities.
This study used data from the Maryland Violent Death Reporting System to examine violent deaths of homeless people occurring from 2003 through 2011. This surveillance system collects information on all violent deaths occurring in Maryland. Victim demographics, injury and death information, precipitating circumstances contributing to deaths, and toxicology information were examined. All analyses were conducted in 2014 and 2015.
Among all violent death victims from 2003 through 2011 (N=14,327), a total of 279 (2.0%) were identified as homeless victims. More than half (65.2%) of deaths were of undetermined intent, 21.2% were homicides, and 13.6% were suicides. The most common method of injury was poisoning (59.0%). Substance abuse and having a current mental health problem were among the most commonly reported circumstances relating to death.
This study found substance abuse and mental health problems to be major circumstances precipitating violent death among people experiencing homelessness. This study will serve as a starting point for more in-depth analyses on experiences of violent death among homeless people that can inform violence prevention policy and programming.