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Monday, February 18 , 2019, 9:43 pm | Fair 50º


Elderly Homeless Woman Dies After Going In and Out of Facilities, Shelters

Social workers say 'Ruth,' a wheelchair-bound 74-year-old, struggled with alcohol addiction

After being turned away from shelters and turning herself away from a nursing facility, a wheelchair-bound 74-year-old homeless woman died in a Lompoc hospital Thursday.

Known as “Ruth” to friends and social workers, she had struggled with alcohol addiction, and several attempts toward recovery were flustered. Santa Barbara social worker Ken Williams said Friday morning that although Ruth had a severe drinking problem, she “was a beautiful woman in many ways.”

“It’s really sad someone this age and with such an infirmary would die like this,” Williams said.

Noozhawk interviewed Ruth in March as part of a project about the dangers of being homeless on Santa Barbara’s streets.

Ruth was recently placed in a skilled nursing facility because of her health, but she left the facility against medical advice, according to Mike Foley, executive director of Casa Esperanza, a shelter that had worked with Ruth off and on.

He said Ruth went from Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital to the streets, and that because of Ruth’s medical needs and condition, Foley said the hospital knew Casa Esperanza was not a referral option.

“Our program is not capable of providing around-the-clock nursing care,” he said.

Cottage Hospital officials had no comment on Ruth’s case or the hospital’s interaction with her.

Foley said Friday that the state of California allows people to make medical decisions, but that alcohol- and drug-related illnesses are not treated the same as mental health conditions, in regards to whether a person can care for him or herself.

Ruth’s only other option was a voluntary medical detox facility, and Foley said the closest one is in Los Angeles, with a waiting list of two to three weeks minimum. Foley said Ruth had agreed on Thursday to go back to try a skilled nursing facility in Lompoc.

It’s unclear exactly how Ruth died, but Foley said that “if anyone thinks that alcoholism isn’t an incredibly insidious disease, they need look no farther than this situation to prove otherwise.”

Among the 45 homeless deaths that occurred in Santa Barbara County last year, more than one-third were directly related to drugs and alcohol, according to a report issued earlier this year by the county’s Homeless Death Review Team. Foley called the situation “the saddest and most difficult situation I’ve seen since my arrival at Casa five years ago.”

“For an alcoholic who needs skilled nursing care, and refuses recovery treatment and insists on continuing substance use, there are virtually no options here at this time,” he said.

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

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