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Sunday, February 17 , 2019, 5:58 am | Fair 49º


Santa Barbara County Report Finds Challenges Remain with Efforts to Prevent Homeless Deaths

Board of Supervisors hears from a Public Health Department doctor about a review team's study of 90 deaths over a two-year period

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors heard from Public Health officials Tuesday about a report detailing dozens of homeless deaths in the county.

Ninety homeless people died from Jan. 1, 2009, to Dec. 31, 2010, in Santa Barbara County, according to a report from the Santa Barbara County Homeless Death Review Team.

The team was tasked in 2008 with reviewing the deaths and determining how to avoid others. The leading cause of death listed in the report was alcohol and drug abuse. More than three-quarters of the decedents suffered from alcoholism.

Dr. David Lennon, a physician with the county Public Health Department, led the project and provided an overview to county supervisors.

He said several successes have resulted since the team first started examining the deaths, including resource sharing among county agencies, improving access to housing and increasing street outreach.

The Common Ground Vulnerability Index was issued by thousands of volunteers last spring to identify the most vulnerable homeless and work to get them housing. Since the survey, Lennon said, 90 people have been moved into housing.

Challenges remain, however, including a lack of beds for homeless people recuperating after being released from the hospital. The Casa Esperanza Homeless Shelter and WillBridge are the only places that provide limited respite care in the South County, while none exist in the North County.

There also remains a large gap between the time people access services and when they die, according to the report. Lennon said that gap is as much as a year for visits to the Public Health Department, and multiple years for alcohol and drug treatment.

He said the current model of stationary clinics is having limited success.

“We really need to look at more street outreach,” Lennon said, adding that volunteer physicians, such as those with Doctors Without Walls, could help keep costs down for the county.

Supervisor Salud Carbajal asked how the county is reaching out to dually diagnosed people, and Lennon said it remains an ongoing problem.

One solution may be to start a “clinic on wheels” through which the homeless could access medical, mental health and substance abuse help, “so that the whole person can be treated,” he said.

At Carbajal’s suggestion, Public Health staff will return to the board with an action plan in the coming months.

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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