2010 Annual Report on Homeless Deaths
Summary of available data on homeless deaths in Santa Cruz County
For the period December 21, 2009 – December 20, 2010
Santa Cruz County Homeless Persons’ Health Project (HPHP)
A program of the County Health Services Agency, Division of Public Health
In keeping with a tradition established in 1999, once again this year on December 21st homeless individuals, community and family members, and homeless service providers will come together to honor the lives of those who died while homeless this year. The 2010 Annual Report on Homeless Deaths and our local homeless memorial event represent our community’s twelfth year of collecting data and reporting on homeless deaths across the county.
How data on homeless deaths are collected:
Throughout the year, a public health nurse at HPHP maintains a log of deaths occurring among homeless people in Santa Cruz County. The log includes information on confirmed deaths of HPHP clients, as well as confirmed reports of deaths received from other homeless service organizations, medical providers, and friends or family members of those who have died. The log also includes death certificate data compiled by the County Office of Vital Statistics, and data obtained from the County Public Administrator’s office.
The data available from this process most likely under-represent the number of homeless deaths in the county. Housing status at the time of death is neither well documented nor always easily determined. Also, information on likely factors leading to death is imprecise, and is often unknown at the time of death. For the sake of summarizing the information, we have assigned a single primary contributing factor to each death, but in many cases, there are multiple significant factors that have contributed to an individual’s death.
For this reason the data provided in this summary should not be interpreted as a definitive accounting of deaths among the homeless population in our county. Instead, this reflects our best effort at this time to collect and analyze accurate data on homeless deaths in a way that is meaningful to homeless service providers, to friends and family of those who have died, and to people who are housed and homeless in the community at large.
Discussion of 2010 Homeless Deaths:
The total number of deaths reported this year is 30. The total number of homeless deaths reported in 2009 was 47, and the average number of deaths per year over the preceding nine years (2001-2009) was 34. The average age at death for 2010 was 52. This compares to an average age of 49 at death in Santa Cruz County for homeless individuals during the previous nine-year period. The average age of death for all Americans is 78 and this means that homeless people in our community die nearly 30 years earlier than might otherwise be expected.
Major categories of death for homeless individuals this year included heart and lung disease, both acute and chronic (27%), cancer (17%), hypothermia (13%), acute overdose (10%), GI bleeding (10%), trauma (7%), infection (7%) and trauma (7%). We estimate that alcohol and/or other drug addiction was a primary or contributing factor in at least 18 of the 30 (60%) deaths reported this year.
Homelessness causes, complicates and exacerbates serious health problems and it leads to the premature deaths of thousands of people in our communities across our nation every year. This fact is well documented. Research in the U.S. has shown that homeless persons have up to a threefold increase in mortality when compared to the general population, (Hibbs1994). Studies document an average age of death among homeless populations that ranges from 42 to 52 years, while average life expectancy for most Americans is almost 80 (O’Connell, 2005).
About the Memorial:
Our purpose in preparing and distributing this report at this time of year is two-fold; first to honor and mark the passing of all those who were homeless and died in our community during the last year, and second, to document and increase awareness of the serious negative impact of homelessness on the lives of our fellow community members.
Our memorial service includes a reading of the names of the thirty people who were homeless at death and are reflected in our annual report. The names of formerly homeless individuals who were housed at the time of death will also be read. We continue our tradition of creating and displaying homeless memorial flags with the names, ages and year of death for each homeless or previously homeless person who has died since December 21, 1998. This year that twelve-year total will exceed 440 people.
Nearly all of the people who died were personally known to one of us at HPHP or to one of our colleagues at homeless service organizations throughout the county. We are saddened by their deaths. Each person will be missed. We hope that this information will serve to honor the memory of each person, to guide us in our ongoing efforts to improve the health and quality of life for all who experience homelessness, and to recommit ourselves as a community to ending homelessness in Santa Cruz County.
DEATHS AMONG HOMELESS PEOPLE, SANTA CRUZ COUNTY
DECEMBER 21, 2009 - DECEMBER 20. 2010
1) TOTAL NUMBER OF HOMELESS DEATHS: 30
under 21 0
over 70 2
average age at death 52
5) LOCATION AT TIME OF DEATH:
Outside/Vehicle/storage Area: 12 Santa Cruz 20
Hospital: 11 Watsonville 7
Nursing Facility 4 San Lorenzo Valley 2
Temporary Residence/Motel 3 North County 1
6) LIKELY MAIN FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO DEATH:
ACUTE SUBSTANCE USE RELATED
- hypothermia/exposure + intoxication 4
- overdose 3
- GI Bleed 3
- cardiac arrhythmia/heart attack 3
- wound infection 1
- Cancer 5
- cardiopulmonary illnesses 5
- liver/kidney disease 2
- sepsis 1
- suicide 1
- drowning 1