Wednesday, November 14 , 2018, 12:22 pm | Fair 72º


Homeless Deaths Rise; County Prepares to Look at Mental Health

5th homeless death reported late Saturday as advocates step up plea for warming centers

Just three weeks into 2010, five homeless deaths have already been reported. The grim new year’s toll comes on the heels of 28 deaths among Santa Barbara’s homeless in 2009.

“It’s just unheard of,” social worker Ken Williams told Noozhawk on Sunday morning.

Williams said Sunday that another body had been found Saturday night. The homeless man was discovered under the same bridge where another homeless man, Mike, had died just hours earlier Saturday. The cause of the deaths has not been determined.

Williams reported the year’s first homeless death on Jan. 13.  A man named Greg had collapsed and died on Stearns Wharf that day, he said.

While talking with Noozhawk on Sunday, Williams was in the middle of e-mailing an appeal to public health officials to declare an emergency and open up warming centers for the homeless. A series of powerful Pacific storms has been pounding the South Coast with rain, wind and frigid temperatures.

“We need to request, beg and demand that Public Health, or the city or county — hopefully, all three — declare a state of emergency,” the e-mail said. “Warming centers need to be professionally staffed and funded by the city and county.”

A homeless Vietnam veteran was reported to have died in Isla Vista last week and Williams also confirmed the death of a woman named Christin, two blocks from Pershing Park.

“There had been reported assaults against women in that park,” said Williams, who acknowledged he didn’t know Christin’s official cause of death.

Williams said he’s walked up and down State Street several times since the beginning of the year, and noticed a larger number of homeless than usual.

“I’ve never seen so many people outside the shelters,” said Williams, adding that many seemed to be suffering from mental illness.

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors will be listening to a presentation Tuesday about the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services Department, one of the agencies charged with addressing the mental health needs of the homeless.

ADMHS recently received a grade of “F” in an independent study conducted by the California External Quality Review Organization, which ranked mental health departments statewide.

The department reduced spending in 2009 by $8.4 million.

Michael Foley, executive director of the Casa Esperanza homeless shelter, 816 Cacique St., also implored city and county officials to address the needs of the homeless.

“At the Casa Esperanza homeless center this December, 43 homeless people came to the shelter for the first time and declared the need for help dealing with mental illness, compared to 27 the year before,” Foley said in an e-mail to county supervisors Friday. “The rate of suicide and suicidal ideation is on the rise. Millions of dollars are owed to the state of California due to bad billing.”

The supervisors will meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Santa Maria at the Betteravia Government Center Board Hearing Room, 511 E. Lakeside Parkway.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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