Report: One homeless death every five days in Sacramento County in 2016

The Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness counted 71 deaths in Sacramento County’s homeless community in 2016.

In a report, compiled from data provided by the Sacramento County Coroner, SRCEH found that in the last three years the county has seen one homeless death every five days. The rate of violent deaths outpaced those for folks with housing by double-digit factors.

The homeless community’s homicide rate in 2016 was 18.4 times higher than that of the general population. The suicide rate was 10 times higher.

Black residents accounted for 26 percent of homeless deaths, despite making up just 10 percent of the county’s population.

An infographic created by SRCEH outlines homeless deaths in Sacramento County in 2016.

“It’s incredibly shocking,” said SRCEH Executive Director Bob Erlenbusch, who has compiled the report every year since 2014.

Erlenbusch says there was a slight uptick in violent deaths last year (they made up one-third of all homeless deaths) due to the fact that there are simply more homeless folks in the region.

In a January 2017 homeless count, Sacramento County found 2,052 unsheltered homeless residents, a 116 percent uptick from 2015.

SRCEH’s report was released a day before the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors was set to determine if it would put forth $53 million for mental health and substance abuse services in the region, a number that would be matched by federal grants.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who wrote the state law that would free up this money, has been attending county meetings in an attempt to convince supervisors to put the dollars to use. The federal government will not match the funds if the county does not move forward.

This report also comes a week after Steinberg’s city attorney defeated homeless advocates in a civil rights case challenging the city’s unconstitutional enforcement of an anti-camping ordinance. The city passed the ordinance in 1995, with Steinberg–at the time a councilmember–casting the lone vote against it. He has no plans to overturn the ordinance.

Law enforcement has ramped up camping citations against the homeless community over the past 10 years, despite there being many more folks on the street than shelter beds in the region.

While Steinberg pursues county funding for homeless folks, and the region waits for a windfall of cash from two 2017 state bills designed to address the housing crisis, the mayor’s office says they are addressing immediate concerns.

“[T]he City has been laser focused on increasing our emergency triage shelter capacity in preparation for the coming winter,” Steinberg said in an email statement. “We are excited to open a 200 bed triage shelter in North Sacramento on December [1] and are aggressively pursuing other shelter facilities throughout the City.”

These beds are set aside for the winter months only. Erlenbusch cautions that homeless deaths in the region occur equally throughout the year.

“In the short term, we need to expand year-round shelter,” said Erlenbusch, adding that collaboration between the city and county in the coming weeks is important for longterm solutions.

Joan Burke, Director of Advocacy at emergency homeless service provider Sacramento Loaves & Fishes, says homeless deaths in the county may in fact be higher than SRCEH’s report, as it only includes deaths involving the coroner.

“Homeless people also die of diabetes, heart failure, cancer, that the rest of us die from,” said Burke, who helped with SRCEH’s first homeless deaths report. “But they’re not included in this report unless the coroner was involved.”

Read SRCEH’s full report here.

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Dave Kempa
Dave Kempa is the founder and editor of VOICES: River City.