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Record Number of Homeless People Died in Sacramento County Last Year, New Report Shows

Eileen Thomas stands and waits after lighting candles at the 5th annual Interfaith Homeless Memorial in remembrance of the homeless people who died in 2017 at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Friday, December 21, 2018. DANIEL KIM DKIM@SACBEE.COM

By: Theresa Clift
August 12, 2020 —

A record number of homeless people died in Sacramento County last year, with Black people taking up a disproportionate share of the deaths, according to an annual report from homeless activists.

The report released today from the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness showed 138 homeless people died in 2019 — six more deaths than in 2018. On average, a homeless person died about every two and a half days last year in Sacramento County.

The report also shows that methamphetamine overdoses were the leading cause of death among the homeless, and that the number of homeless women who died continues to rise in the county.

The number of homeless people who have died each year has increased since 2016, when 71 homeless died. In 2017, the number jumped to 124In 2018, it continued to climb to 132.

A woman holds an electric candle at the 5th annual Interfaith Homeless Memorial in remembrance of the homeless people who died in 2017 at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Friday, December 21, 2018. DANIEL KIM DKIM@SACBEE.COM

The number of Black homeless people who died in 2019 made up 28% of the total — up from 19% between 2017 and 2018, according to the report. Black people make up 13% of the county’s population.

That statistic comes amid a national movement to address inequities Black communities have been suffering from for decades, including police brutality, higher poverty rates, and higher death rates from the coronavirus.

During a homeless count conducted in January 2019volunteers talked to about 500 of the 5,570 estimated homeless people living in Sacramento County. They found homelessness was disproportionately impacting the Black community. Thirty-four percent of the homeless people were Black.

Julian Street, 13, holds an electric candle at the 5th annual Interfaith Homeless Memorial in remembrance of the homeless people who died in 2017 at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Friday, December 21, 2018. DANIEL KIM DKIM@SACBEE.COM

The Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, which publishes the report each year using coroner data, expressed support for the mayor’s plan to order 500 tiny homes and place them at small temporary “Safe Ground” encampments scattered around the city. The council could approve that plan this month.

The organization also urged local officials to create a committee to address systemic racism as it relates to homelessness; allocate $10 million in federal coronavirus dollars to rental assistance; build a shelter in each council district; and open a long-awaited parking lot for people to sleep safely in their vehicles.

The group also is urging local officials to follow the lead of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and create a committee “charged with coming up with recommendations that address racism, discrimination and unconscious bias in our public systems,” the report said.

The committee should include people of color who have experienced homelessness to ensure the programs and services meet the needs of those they are intended to serve, the report said.

200 of these electronic candles commemorating Homeless Persons Memorial were given to guests attending the Longest Night event held on December 21, 2019 at the Anaheim Cemetery. (Video by Tim Houchen Homeless Perspective)

“I think it is long overdue for Sacramento Steps Forward, the city and the county to address systemic racism as it relates to homelessness in our community and promote racial equity in the homeless service system as well as public policies,” SRCEH executive director Bob Erlenbusch said.

METH-RELATED DEATHS INCREASE SIGNIFICANTLY

Forty-three homeless people died of methamphetamine overdoses in 2019, according to the report. That’s up from 28 who died from meth overdose in 2018. It comprised 80% of all alcohol and substance abuse deaths last year.

There are few places in Sacramento for homeless people who are suffering from meth overdose to go besides jail or the hospital.

The city recently spent $1 million in federal coronavirus stimulus funds for a meth sobering center and detox facility, planned to open in the central city next month, City Councilman Jeff Harris said.

“This is a huge issue among the homeless population and now that we know it’s causing the increased mortality we have to address it in great fervor,” Harris said.

Father Michael O’Reilly holds an electric candle while singing ‘Silent Night’ at the 5th annual Interfaith Homeless Memorial in remembrance of the homeless people who died in 2017 at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Friday, December 21, 2018. DANIEL KIM DKIM@SACBEE.COM

The facility, in partnership with Wellspace Health, will be able to serve about 20 people at a time, and they will cycle through in less than a day, Harris said.

In addition, the county should implement a recommendation from its meth coalition and expand funding for alcohol and drug treatment as well as mental health programs, the report said.

Thirty-three homeless women died in 2019 — 26% of the total. The percentage of women who die each year out of the total number of homeless deaths has continued to increase since 2016, when 18% of the deaths were women.

Of all large metropolitan areas in the country, Sacramento has the highest percentage of homeless families sleeping outdoors, a federal report earlier this year found.

The city is opening a 100-bed shelter for women in Meadowview this year, which was originally set to open during the winter.

Nonprofit Loaves and Fishes’ Maryhouse facility offers daytime services for women, such as showers, diapers, wipes and menstrual supplies. But a staff coronavirus infection has closed the facility for two weeks, said Shannon Dominguez-Stevens, Maryhouse director.

Dominguez-Stevens said more people have been showing up to Maryhouse for services since the pandemic started. Several have said they have been recently evicted, despite a city and state moratorium on evictions for those financially impacted by the virus.

She also hears many stories of violence. Blunt force head injuries were the cause of 27 of the deaths in 2019, the report said.

“Not a day goes by we don’t have women coming to us to report physical violence, sexual violence or domestic partner violence,” Dominguez-Stevens said. “People at the city and county level need to lean into the expertise of those of us who are working on the ground with these women experiencing homelessness.”

She added, “We need to remember these women are people with hopes and dreams and desires. They deserve just as much support as a housed person.”

This article courtesy of the Sacramento Bee


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