[Hpn] San Francisco Protest honors the dying homeless

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Wed, 22 Jan 2003 14:43:13 -0800


Protest honors the dying homeless
S.F. urged to resume annual study of deaths

Ilene Lelchuk, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 22, 2003
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle

URL: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2003/01/22/BA49612.DTL


San Francisco homeless advocates held a demonstration Tuesday to criticize
public health officials for ending the city's in-depth analysis of homeless
deaths. 

Citing budget constraints and repetitive results, the Department of Public
Health issued its last report on who died and why in 1999. That was the year
when health officials reported 169 deaths -- the highest number ever
recorded by the city in its 13 years of tracking homeless deaths.

The in-depth study routinely found that most deaths were related to drugs or
alcohol and most occurred in the Tenderloin neighborhood.

On Tuesday, the Coalition on Homelessness staged a demonstration at the
cable car turnaround at Market and Powell streets and then led a march
through the Tenderloin to honor three people who died recently on the
streets or in shelters.

"There have been a lot of accomplishments from the homeless death count,"
said Jennifer Friedenbach of the coalition. "The information really helped
show us where there were holes in the system."

Friedenbach said, for example, that the research led to efforts to get
intoxicated people, whose blood is thinned from alcohol, off the cold
streets. The city created the McMillian drop-in center where inebriates can
grab a few hours of sleep until they sober up, and shelters changed their
rules to allow intoxicated people inside, she said.

But as San Francisco faces a $320 million-plus and growing deficit, it's
unlikely the coalition will get its in-depth study back. The staff who
produced it in past years is now working on the city's response to potential
bioterrorism threats, said Dr. Mitch Katz, the public health director.

"Our focus is on preventing homeless deaths, not on counting them," Katz
said. "There are multiple years of data to show us what causes of deaths are
and where deaths most occur."

While no analysis is being conducted anymore, the medical examiner's office
continues to tally the dead brought in without fixed addresses -- the total
was 108 people in 2002. Homeless advocates counter that the true number of
deaths is much higher.

Medical examiner administrator Herb Hawley acknowledged that his count isn't
all-inclusive. "I know there are people who are dying in other situations
that we never hear about it," he said.

E-mail Ilene Lelchuk at ilelchuk@sfchronicle.com.

©2003 San Francisco Chronicle

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