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Monday, March 25 , 2019, 11:45 pm | Fair 52º


Santa Barbara Supervisors Get Report on 2017 Deaths in Homeless Population

Drug or alcohol overdoses and cardiovascular disease were the major causes of death among homeless people in Santa Barbara in 2017, according to a new report.

The findings, which were presented to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors this week, provide a demographic breakdown of the homeless deaths two years ago, and will be used for developing a plan to prevent more deaths, said Van Do-Reynoso, director of the county Public Health Department.

A total of 44 homeless people died in 2017, and of that number, 36 were men, the average person lived to 52 years old, and 63 percent were white, while 30 percent were Hispanic/Latino.

In 2017, the number of homeless people who died was the same as the number in 2016, Do-Reynoso said.

“It’s noteworthy that we don’t have an increase from previous year,” Do-Reynoso said. “I did a quick scan at jurisdictions nearby who count homeless deaths, and it ranges from 17 to 19 percent (increase).

“Forty-four is still one too many, but it’s good that we are not seeing a sharp increase as (other) jurisdictions,” she continued.

According to the sixth annual report from the county Public Health Department’s Homeless Death Review Team, 9 percent of deaths were attributed to blunt force trauma and 41 percent listed as “all other causes,” which could be cancer, diabetes and lung disease.

The majority (27 people) received services from the county’s Behavioral Wellness Department at some point in the year before their deaths.

Fifteen of the 27 people were diagnosed with a “serious persistent” mental illness, such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, delusional disorder, bipolar disorder, and severe depression or personality disorder.

Sixty-eight percent of the deaths occurred on the South Coast, while 18 percent took place in the North County, 12 percent in the middle of the county and 2 percent outside the county.

Sixteen of the deaths occurred outdoors, a lower number compared to the 2015 and 2016 reports. 

None of the deaths was attributed to the weather in 2017, meaning hypothermia or dehydration-related causes were not listed, said Dana Gamble, assistant deputy director of the county Public Health Department.

However, more than 30 percent of the deaths took place in the winter.

“Natural cause” was the most prevalent manner of death in 2017, but the number was lower compared to 2016. 

Twenty-four people died of “natural causes,” 15 of accidental causes, two were homicides, and three “could not be determined.”

Eleven “accidental” deaths were attributed to drug overdoses.

Other “accidental” deaths included a person choking, a cyclist hit by a train, a pedestrian hit by a train and a fall. 

Five decedents were identified as veterans in 2017. 

More than 30 people made 124 total visits to emergency rooms, with an average of 3.8 visits per person.

Nineteen were admitted to the hospital a total of 65 times.

Fourteen died in a hospital or a care facility. 

According to the report, individuals had “frequent” contact with county public health, social services and behavioral wellness departments, as well as the county Sheriff’s Department and local hospitals. 

Caitlyn Dunn, a public health nurse working with homeless individuals in the county, briefly explained why some individuals could be reluctant to get help or treatment for issues.

Dunn’s primary focus is connecting people with a primary care doctor and other services such as housing support, veterans and mental health services, she said.

She told a descriptive story of working with a patient who got a positive HIV test result.

“There’s a lot of barriers out there for people, and it can be hard for people to understand why someone doesn’t just come to the doctor when they’re sick — there are all of these things,” Dunn said.

She said that through conversations with the HIV patient, she “realized there were all these barriers to them accepting treatment — a lot of them had to do with misconceptions about the disease progression and treatment itself.”

Second District Supervisor Gregg Hart said he “didn’t personally realize that fear of judgments was such an incredible barrier.”

The county Public Health Department’s Homeless Death Review Team was formed in 2008 to look into homeless deaths and their causes, compile data to identify trends, and explore ways to prevent similar deaths. 

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland 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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