By Tim Houchen
May 13, 2020 —
Every month for the past two years, Father Dennis Kriz has published a list of those persons that died without homes in the previous month and he presides over a monthly memorial ceremony that is held at St. Philip Benezi Catholic Church in Fullerton.
In a monthly newsletter Father Kriz reported that 34 homeless persons had passed away during the month of April making it the deadliest month ever for persons experiencing homelessness in Orange County.
The record-breaking numbers from April and the higher than average totals for the three previous months, puts 2020 on track to break the record of 244 homeless deaths set in 2018.
In Orange County, Father Kriz and myself are considered as authorities on the subject of homeless deaths. Father Kriz for his monthly memorials and op-eds and myself as the Executive Director of Hope 4 Restoration, which has since 2016, been the lead organizer of events recognizing National Homeless Persons Memorial Day held each year on December 21st.
As authorities of homeless deaths in Orange County, we are concerned about the information that we get from the Coroner so that some sense can be made from the causes of death in order to determine how deaths can be prevented in the future.
The spreadsheet from the Orange County Coroner’s office does provide an explanation as to a cause of death in the column under the heading labeled “Cause A.” The majority of the deaths as you will see on the spreadsheet however, will be labeled as “pending investigation.”. In my experience, I have not once been updated by the Coroner for the results of a pending investigation regarding a homeless death.
So, we have talked about the record number of homeless deaths in April, but we haven’t said anything about how these people died. With the COVID-19 pandemic, also comes the question of how many homeless people died as a result of the virus?
We may never know this answer. What we do know from looking at the numbers is that homeless people are dying at a higher rate beginning several months back even before the Coronavirus made its presence known in California.
That being said, we must question the amount of and the quality of the care that homeless individuals are being provided here. We must question the effectiveness of the outreach that is being performed by county workers and the organizations that are contracted by the county to provide homeless outreach.
With such a high number of deaths over the course of the last several months, perhaps our county should re-define what “vulnerable” really means. I have been contacted by about two dozen homeless individuals, many who I would determine as vulnerable and at-risk of contracting COVID-19, who have not been able to get access to motel/hotel rooms as prescribed in Project Roomkey.
In early April, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the state would provide 15,000 hotel and motel rooms for unsheltered Californians. But those rooms aren’t for everyone — they are made available to people only if they are at a heightened risk of contracting COVID-19, or after they have tested positive for the novel coronavirus that causes it.
Nearly a month after the governor’s “Project Roomkey” announcement, only a little more than a third of those rooms are filled.
We are asking our sources at the county questions regarding Project Roomkey and who is considered vulnerable and why are people that I consider as vulnerable not able to access motel/hotel rooms? I would like to know how many people are in the motel/hotels and how many homeless persons have contracted the virus? If there have been any deaths contributed to COVID-19, I would like to know how many?
You can bet that I will do everything in my power to decrease the numbers of people dying on our streets. That can only happen if we can increase the number of opportunities for our homeless people to become stabily housed and provided with all of the necessary services and resources that they need to one day become completely self-sustainable.
In the meanwhile, I have presented all of my questions to the people that have all of the answers at the county. Now, I’ll just sit back and wait to get some answers. Hopefully, I won’t have to wait too long.
Is there a high rate of death among persons experiencing homelessness in your community?
and let us know!
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