The information in this article is critical awareness that needs to be shared. The fact that more and more of our neighbors in Orange County are dying on the streets is an indication of the overall health of our community. I want to share this information to offer hope. There are generous and passionate people in our community that are joining hands to serve the less fortunate and see to it that the needs of our neighbors are being met.
Where the statistics reveal the primary causes of death are a lack of health and mental health care, there are organizations like OC Community Services and our Hurtt Family Health Clinic that are looking to provide for these needs. These statistics can be disheartening but we should use this information to propel us into efforts that promote lasting change. The Village of Hope is a model that advocates for a hand up, not a hand out. Seeking holistic healing over the period of two years, our programs offer the time to heal emotionally, spiritually, relationally, physically and provisionally.
Read more about our program and the wrap-around services we provide to meet the most vital needs of the least, the last and the lost: www.rescuemission.org
A homeless man moves his belongings to La Palma Park in Anaheim in 2013. The number of homeless people in Orange County who died in 2015 jumped sharply from previous years, according to figures provided by the Orange County Coroner’s Office.FILE: KEN STEINHARDT, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
The number of homeless people who died in Orange County spiked in 2015 compared with previous years.
Last year, 181 people who died in the county were listed as having “no known abode” by the Orange County Coroner Division. That was a 45 percent increase from 2014, when the county recorded 125 homeless deaths, and a 53 percent jump from the 118 deaths in 2013.
Those people died on streets and in public places such as strip malls, the Santa Ana riverbed, the armories, train and bus stations, parked vehicles and railroad tracks. Some died in hospitals, others in motels and other people’s residences.
The coroner’s figures, initially cited in a news report earlier this week by KPCC public radio, troubled but didn’t surprise those who work closely with the homeless.
“When I saw that, it kind of validated what we have been saying: The county is not realizing they have so many sick people out there,” said Paul Leon, a public health nurse who heads up the Illumination Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides health care and housing services to the homeless.
The county’s homeless population was estimated last year to be about 4,500 people, and Leon expects the death rate in that group to continue to rise.
He said people now on the street tend to be sicker than in past years, with the most vulnerable suffering from chronic illnesses, mental health issues and substance abuse.
“There are less providers actually serving this population; 2016 is going to be way higher,” Leon said.
Karen Roper, director of OC Community Services, was more optimistic. She noted that recent efforts by the county to help the homeless have intensified and that more services could help decrease the homeless population in the coming year and beyond.
She cited expanded outreach and assessment, a year-round shelter expected to open in December, and more permanent housing that includes supportive services.
She said such services “will help us to safely move chronically homeless and medically fragile homeless from the streets to shelter and housing.”
Larry “Smitty” Smith, who lives in Santa Ana’s Civic Center and is involved in the Civic Center Roundtable homeless activist group, said there are more deaths because the county has underestimated the number of homeless overall.
“You have twice as many people as they say.”
Smith also pointed out a key shortage that affects the homeless and others with low incomes in Orange County.
“There is no housing,” he said.
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