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The Hammond Police Department, seen Tuesday, September 8, 2020, in Hammond, La.

A Hammond man died Monday after he was crushed by a garbage compactor, and his body was later found in the back of a garbage truck, officials said.

Hammond Police identified the man as 42-year-old Jermaine Watts. They said he fell asleep in a dumpster to escape frigid temperatures that arrived in the Baton Rouge area overnight Sunday.

While his official cause of death has not been determined and is pending an autopsy, police said Watts appeared to suffer fatal injuries when the dumpster's contents were loaded into a garbage truck equipped with a compactor and the compactor was activated.

His body was found Monday in the mechanical portion of a garbage truck.

Police said that Watts' official cause of death is pending an autopsy and toxicology reports from the coroner's office.

It wasn't immediately clear Wednesday whether Watts' decision to enter the dumpster was due to homelessness. Still, people on social media said the incident illustrated how Hammond, the biggest city in Tangipahoa Parish, needs to expand housing and other resources for people experiencing homelessness, particularly when harsh weather arrives.

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People seeking shelter in the rural-suburban area east of Baton Rouge have few options, and even calculating the number of homeless people here can be a challenge: Parishes like Livingston, Tangipahoa, St. Helena and Washington are excluded from the annual Louisiana Balance of State Continuum of Care Point in Time count conducted each January that tallies the number of homeless people over the course of one night. 

However, Northlake Homeless Coalition conducts their own Point in Time Count for the Florida Parishes annually.

The organization, which provides care for homeless people in the region, recorded 194 people experiencing homelessness in their last published count from 2018.

Staff writer Jacqueline DeRobertis contributed to this report.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to more accurately describe how the number of homeless people was counted in the Florida Parishes.


James Finn writes for The Advocate as a Report For America corps member. Email him at JFinn@theadvocate.com or follow him on Twitter @RJamesFinn.

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