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Monday, January 21 , 2019, 6:54 pm | Fair 58º


Faces of Our Homeless, Facing Up to Death

Since Jan. 1, 13 homeless men and women have died on Santa Barbara's streets. Life goes on for the living, but the specter of death looms large

The number of homeless deaths in Santa Barbara has risen to 13 since the beginning of 2009, a sobering statistic that equates to one a week.

While the deaths have been attributed to a variety of causes — alcoholism, natural, suspected murder — 13 of them in such a short period of time is unprecedented in recent years, local homeless advocates say. Last year, 18 homeless deaths were recorded.

“This is just an incredible acceleration” compared to previous years, said Ken Williams, a longtime social outreach worker among the homeless community.

Williams said the stresses of life on the streets affect even longtime homeless individuals.

“I think people have been homeless so long that it’s starting to catch up with them,” he said. “There’s just so much stress on the homeless right now. Everything’s piling up on them.”

On top of the rash of recent deaths, Santa Barbara’s homeless shelter, Casa Esperanza, 816 Cacique St., will be forced to turn away at least 60 homeless individuals Wednesday as the facility’s conditional-use permit for winter shelter expires. The shelter houses up to 200 people during the colder months, but has to release people come April each year. Last week, the Santa Barbara Planning Commission approved the use of 40 extra beds through June 30.

Noozhawk interviewed five homeless individuals, who live in both the shelter and on the streets, to talk about the recent deaths and the perils they face. Click here for the multimedia presentation.

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

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