Sacramento County reported a record high number of deaths of homeless people last year, and among them were a disproportionate amount of unhoused African Americans.
An annual report by the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness revealed that 138 homeless people died in 2019 in Sacramento County, up from 132 recorded in 2018. Of which, 28% were Black homeless people. Sacramento’s Black community makes up just 11% of the county’s overall population.
“The percentage of African-American people experiencing homelessness as well as Native Americans — those are overrepresented not only in the homeless population, but also in the number of deaths,” said Bob Erlenbusch, director of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness.
About 45% of homeless deaths recorded are homeless people of color.
The percentage of Black homeless people in the county who died has nearly doubled since 2018, when the group was just 16% of recorded deaths.
“We’re concerned about the high rate of folks being unhoused in Sacramento, and specifically how Black and brown folks are disproportionately unhoused statewide as well as locally,” Faye Wilson Kennedy with the Sacramento Poor People’s Campaign said.
White homeless people were also more likely to have died from natural causes.Of the 20 “natural cause” deaths reported last year, nearly three quarters of them were white.
People of color who were homeless were much more likely to die from health conditions, violent crime or unknown causes. Kennedy said she believed that could be as a result of a lack of access to healthcare.
“People of color don’t have access to healthcare,” she said. “Even when we’re housed we don’t have good access to quality healthcare, and that’s why you see COVID impacting Black and brown and Indigenous people at a much higher rate in terms of hospitalizations and deaths.”
The report also showed that homelessness reduces life expectancy of a person by 25 years or more — men’s life expectancy was reduced to an average of 51 years, while women’s life expectancy was as young as 47 years on average.
The results were collected from Sacramento County coroner datafor 2019, and results from 2020 are not expected until next summer. However, Erlenbusch said he is not anticipating a much higher rate of deaths of homeless people next year despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think that we were fortunately ahead of the curve in terms of social distancing and providing homeless people with masks, people making sure tents were 12 feet apart,” Erlenbusch explained. “Hopefully by being proactive with this it’ll bring those numbers down.”
But he also worried that the COVID-19 pandemic could make for higher rates of homelessness as a result of job loss and evictions, in addition to less space in shelters.
“It cuts the capacity for emergency shelters in half, so it has created more people being outside, which, in a weird way, might in fact save lives, because there’s social distancing,” Erlenbusch said. “But it’s also really hot, and then we have not prepared for winter yet. We’ve got a long way to go.”
The county’s most recent Point-n-Time count, a federally-mandated biennial county of homeless residents, which was released last year, shows that there were around 5,570 unhoused people in Sacramento.
Cindy Cavanaugh, director of the county’s Homeless Initiatives,said she was also optimistic that the homeless death rate would not spike too much this year, because the county had actually been able to provide more housing options as a result of federal coronavirus relief funding.
“We’re optimistic that what we’ve been investing in this year, we have quite a bit of additional funding and we brought in 1,000 people who’d been living outdoors into our quarantine isolation program in trailers and motels,” Cavanaugh said.
The county will now be moving to find 500 of those people permanent homes before next year.
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