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Homeless Deaths on the Rise in Sacramento County

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SACRAMENTO -- A vigil was held in Sacramento on Monday, honoring the memory of each of the 79 homeless people who died in Sacramento County in 2016.

City and county officials, including Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, read the names of those who died.

The vigil coincides with a report issued by the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness that tallied the 78 homeless deaths in 2015.

"Almost every day is difficult now,” said James Donaldson, a homeless man in Sacramento. Donaldson says the most difficult part of being homeless is seeing the people he knows, people he's become close to die too early and too often.

"Two of my friends have passed away,” said Donaldson fighting back tears.

An average of one homeless person per week for the last 13 years has died prematurely in Sacramento County, according to the report.

Fifty-four percent of the 2015 homeless deaths were the result of either violence or drugs. The average age of death is 47 for homeless women and 49 for men.

Bob Erlenbusch, director of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homeless says the county only has enough room in shelters for about 64 percent of the homeless population, and added they don’t open every day.

"Half the homeless deaths occur on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. That's when a lot of the traditional programs are closed,” said Erlenbusch.

Add to that, the homeless people in Sacramento rarely see doctors. Minor health issues quickly become deadly.

"My friend passed away because he got sick. He had a heart attack,” said Mae Saechou, a homeless woman who lives in Sacramento.

Another issue -- funding. Erlenbusch says the city and county collectively share an account of about $5 million for homeless housing. He says it would take at least $75 million annually to establish short-term shelters, and long-term affordable housing.

"Mayor Steinberg has made homelessness one of his top priorities,” said Erlenbusch, who is optimistic about the new mayoral administration’s stance on combating homelessness.

For now, the reality on the streets is painful for those living on them.

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