Homelessness is taking a painful toll in human lives. In the 5 years through 2010, 154 people died homeless or were presumed homeless in Sonoma County. That’s an average of 30.8 homeless deaths per year.  The median age at death in Sonoma County for “no address/homeless” people, the categories shown in the table below, was 58.  The mean was 60.  The median for the general population was 81 with a mean of 75.  That’s a 23-year difference! Over 74% of homeless county residents lived here before becoming homeless.  85% lived in California, many in neighboring counties.

Many people succumb to illnesses or injuries caused or worsened by exposure to weather and toxins in their environment, and the rigors and dangers of living outdoors.  In 2012 alone, at least six homeless pedestrians have been killed by cars on our streets. A well-liked 24-year old homeless woman who was working on pulling her life together was stabbed to death in late October in downtown Santa Rosa.  Her loss deeply affected people in our community, and highlighted the vulnerability of people trying to survive without shelter.

Deaths by decedent’s address, Sonoma County 2006-2010
1)

No address indicated

Homeless/ transient

Found at location

Address indicated as unknown

Total

2006-2010 mid-point Population (2008)

Total

98

32

17

7

154

487575

Male

63

20

15

6

104

241146

Female

35

12

2

1

50

246429

<18

1

1

0

0

2

117369

18-44

18

4

2

1

25

170191

45-64

34

15

9

4

62

140039

65+

45

12

6

2

65

59976

Source: California Department of Public Health, Death Statistical Master Files, 2006-2010 and CA Dept of Finance, Race/Ethnic Population with Age and Sex Detail, 2008, Sacramento, CA Jul 2007, Jenny Mercado, MPH, Epidemiologist, Sonoma County Department of Health Services

Homeless services programs shelter many, place them housing, and provide a range of innovative, effective services to help people get on their feet.  Yet ¾ of our homeless families and individuals, – over 3500 people including hundreds of homeless youth – remain outside due to lack of shelter space and affordable housing options.  Sleeping anywhere, including in a car, without permission from the property owner is illegal countywide.

Rents have risen, and while jobs are beginning to come back many are still part-time, seasonal, and have few if any benefits.  People at the low end of the economic spectrum tend not to benefit proportionately in a recovery.

We can fix this only by working together.  With your support, the Task Force and Health Care for the Homeless Collaborative have made great strides to ensure that people have access to a clinic as a “medical home”, get support to resolve complex health and social issues after hospitalization, have access to treatment for substance abuse and mental as well as physical health care, and have a safe place to recuperate from surgery or illness.

Our Winter Warmth program provides donated survival gear.  Our Resource Guides locate help. We’re working to secure additional federal Emergency Food and Shelter Program Funds for agencies countywide, and continuing to work to expand housing for homeless people with disabilities, building on the generous donation last year of two buildable acres with a home by Luther Burbank Savings.  Thanks to all of you for your support to change these disturbing numbers.

Special Thanks to Carolyn Epple, to the Dorothy Day Working Group of Occupy Santa Rosa, (who are campaigning to Legalize Sleep), for gathering and sharing these statistics, and to Jenny Mercado, MPH and the Sonoma County Department of Health Services for compiling them.