The Homeless

One homeless person a week dies on the streets in Sacramento County, report shows

Washington Thrower, 68, died after a car struck him and sped away on a Saturday night on 47th Avenue.

Shelly Allen, 49, was beaten to death by an acquaintance in Del Paso Heights.

Eddy Praradov, 30, suffered a fatal drug overdose a week after he vowed to get clean and sober.

The three had at least one thing in common, according to a new report. They were among 71 people who were homeless when they died in Sacramento County last year.

The report prepared by the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness documents the deaths of 776 people between 2002 and 2016 who the coroner’s office determined were homeless. The figure translates to about one death a week for the past 15 years.

Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of the coalition, said the findings underscore the Sacramento area’s need for more shelter beds for homeless people, and more aggressive outreach toward men and women who sleep in parks, in cars, along riverbeds and in front of churches and businesses.

Among the 71 people who died homeless last year, fewer than half took advantage of available services while they were on the streets, Erlenbusch pointed out. The numbers are based on a search of names by Sacramento Steps Forward, a nonprofit group that manages federal funds for homeless services in the county. The group maintains a database that tracks homeless people who check into shelters or receive mental health care or other treatment in the system.

More than half of the 30 people who did receive services last year were physically disabled or suffered from a mental condition, the report says. Nearly half had chronic health issues or were substance abusers.

Erlenbusch and others hope that a new pipeline of money and services will address some of the issues documented in the report.

The city and county are engaged in discussions about funding and implementation of the $64 million federal Whole Person Care pilot program, which will use matching grant dollars to connect chronically homeless people with treatment and housing. Mayor Darrell Steinberg is trying to convince the county to invest an additional $53 million in funding for mental health services, which are not covered by Whole Person Care.

A key component of the Whole Person Care plan is to put providers on the streets to reach out to homeless people who are unwilling or unable to sign up for needed services, Erlenbusch said. Aggressive outreach, he said, “in many cases will save lives.”

Steinberg, who has made tackling homelessness a centerpiece of his administration, called the homeless deaths report’s findings “devastating” and “unacceptable.” The results of the research demonstrate “exactly why we must double down on our commitment” to get people into treatment and housing, the mayor said.

As the documented number of homeless people has risen in Sacramento County during the past 15 years, so has the number who die without permanent shelter, the report shows. In 2002, 32 people identified as homeless died in the county. That number rose to 61 in 2011, and peaked at 78 in 2015.

The most recent “point in time” census of homelessness in the county found more than 3,600 people are without shelter on any given night, an increase of 30 percent from the 2015 count. Most nights, shelters are full and have waiting lists. The city is refining plans for a temporary winter shelter and, later, a more permanent “triage center” in North Sacramento. But advocates believe more beds and services will be needed.

The coalition’s report paints a picture of a homeless population in Sacramento County whose members tend to die young and violently. Their average age at death in 2016 was 48, about 30 years younger than the general population.

Homeless people are far more likely than the general population to die by homicide or suicide, the research shows. The report lists alcohol and drugs as the leading underlying cause of death among Sacramento County’s homeless people, followed by blunt force injury. More than 80 percent of those who died on the streets last year were men, and 70 percent of the dead were Caucasian.

The mortality rate, or death rate per 100,000 people, is three times higher among homeless people than in the general population. The homicide rate is more than 18 times greater, and the suicide rate 16 times higher.

Based on the findings, the coalition is calling for free or subsidized transportation for homeless people, and respite care that would immediately help people who are discharged from hospitals and jails. It also recommends more funding for affordable housing in Sacramento County, advocating a “Housing First” approach. Housing First emphasizes connecting people to permanent housing as soon as possible without requiring sobriety or treatment as conditions for moving in.

“It’s sad and tragic that homeless men and women continue to die under such dire circumstances,” County Supervisor Don Nottoli said in reaction to the report. “I’m hoping the ongoing work and additional commitment of resources by the county and cities will help us better address this problem.”

Cynthia Hubert: 916-321-1082, @Cynthia_Hubert

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