Thursday, August 22, 2019     Volume: 20, Issue: 25

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on March 13th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 2 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 20, Issue 2

Santa Barbara County issues sixth annual homeless death report


Heart disease and overdoses remain the top killers of homeless individuals in Santa Barbara County, according to health officials.

The information was included in an annual report from the County Health Department's Homeless Death Review Team released earlier this month. According to the findings in the report, a total of 44 homeless individuals died in the county in 2017, a number that remained unchanged from 2016.

"Forty-four is still ... too many, but it is good that we are not seeing as sharp an increase as other jurisdictions," Public Health Department Director Dr. Van Do-Reynoso told members of the county Board of Supervisors when she presented the report's finding at a March 5 meeting.

The majority of those deaths were white males. Fifty-five percent of the homeless deaths in the county were categorized as "natural," with 25 percent occurring as the result of cardiovascular disease and another 25 percent due to drug and alcohol overdoses. The average age at the time of death was between 52 and 53 years old, less than the U.S.'s current average life expectancy of 78 years.

"Some studies have indicated that homelessness is correlated with a 25 year decrease in one's life span, and we see that in the data that we reviewed," Do-Reynoso said.

The report also states that only 36 percent of homeless deaths in 2017 occurred outdoors. However, none of the deaths that year were attributed to weather. As the county continues to experience a wetter, colder winter, some officials are concerned that weather-related deaths could increase.

"I do see people getting damper and colder. We are constantly bringing out blankets," said Caitlyn Dunn, a nurse with the Public Health Department's homeless health care program. "It's very challenging."

The lower temperatures and increased rain have taxed warming centers for the homeless in the county. In late February, Freedom Warming Centers, which operates multiple warming centers in the county, announced that increased usage has caused it to use up much of its funding. The organization requested additional funds from the county and the cities of Santa Maria and Santa Barbara for a total of $60,000.

"There is a lot of concern," Dunn said. "I wish there were more solutions ... people are cold."

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