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Local News

Board of Supervisors to Hear from Review Team on Santa Barbara County’s 90 Homeless Deaths

The team, made up of officials from various county departments, studied the cause and manner of the deaths in a two-year period

Ninety homeless people died in a two-year span in Santa Barbara County, and the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will hear a report from the team that studied the cause and manner of the deaths.

The Santa Barbara County Homeless Death Review Team, made up of officials from various departments such as that of Public Health and Social Services, was created in 2008 to review the deaths and determine how to avoid others. In August 2010, the team presented their first report to county supervisors, and Tuesday’s report looks at a two-year period instead of 15 months, as the first report did.

The report recorded 90 deaths from Jan. 1, 2009, to Dec. 31, 2010, with the leading cause of death listed as alcohol and drug abuse. More than three-quarters of the decedents suffered from alcoholism.

A large portion of the decedents also had co-occurring substance abuse issues as well as mental illness.

Most of the decedents were Caucasian men, the average age of 52 years old, 86 percent were U.S. citizens and 14 percent were veterans.

As a result of the first report, county departments have worked to facilitate referrals across agencies. They’ve also worked to place the most vulnerable in housing. To date, 25 people previously homeless now have housing.

“These changes have resulted in improved continuity of care and better system coordination to serve individuals experiencing homeless,” the report said.

Only 3 percent of the deaths occurred from exposure and hypothermia, with both listed as directly attributable to acute alcohol intoxication.

In addition, 38 percent of the deaths were listed as natural causes, 35 percent listed as accidents and 24 percent did not list a manner of death. Four percent of the deaths were listed as trauma-related. Deaths were also fairly distributed throughout the seasons as well.

While many individuals had accessed services for substance abuse, medical and physical conditions, follow-up was not done and the decedents were not receiving services at the times of their deaths.

Treating the dually diagnosed homeless remains a challenge, and “distrust of authorities, mobility and multiplicity of needs make engagement, retention and relapse prevention especially difficult,” the report stated.

The report also found that when the homeless are released from hospitals back onto the street, they often relapse and need additional care.

“Additional medical respite services are needed to provide care to those discharged from the hospital to improve outcomes,” according to the report.

Tuesday’s meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. in the Board Hearing Room at the Joseph Centeno Betteravia Government Administration Building, 511 E. Lakeside Pkwy. in Santa Maria.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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