H-SANTA MARIA

May 7, 2013 8:48 PM by Cameron Polom, KSBY News

Number of homeless deaths shrinking

Homeless deaths in Santa Barbara County have fallen significantly during the last year. On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors got its first look at a report analyzing those deaths.

"It's important for the community to understand that the more people we have dying on the streets as a result of homelessness, the more it affects our community," said Executive Director Sylvia Barnard of Good Samaritan Shelter in Santa Maria.

In order to get that understanding, an annual review of homeless deaths began in 2009. When the first report was released, a team of researchers found 40 homeless people had died for a variety of reasons in Santa Barbara County.

"The study's important so that we can actually make a connection to their death because if there's anything we can do to prevent those deaths that's our goal," said Barnard.

Since 2009, the numbers have fallen. The latest report says in 2011 there were 30 deaths, 10 fewer than 3 years ago.

"During those winter months, when it's cold and the weather really affects homelessness, we really have been able to prevent deaths or illness because we've opened up warming centers throughout the county," said Barnard.

According to the report, 73% of the deaths were men and 90% of the total people who died were Caucasian. Thirty-percent of those who died lived on the streets, while 27% lived in shelters and 23% lived in their vehicles.

Officials say tracking the number of homeless, opening warming centers, and enhanced cooperation between service providers have contributed to the drop in deaths.

Less than a third of the deaths in 2011 were related to drug and alcohol abuse, the rest were attributed to natural health failure.

"So to be able to get them additional help at this point is really important because that way we can prevent any future deaths," said Barnard.

The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department uses the information from those reports to improve care and better coordinate resources for the homeless population.

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