SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - A new report says the homeless death toll is up slightly in Santa Barbara County and the leading cause of the fatalities has changed.
The report was gathered through several sources including homeless outreach agencies and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff-Coroner data.
The county has a homeless death review team that says the deaths in the last year were primarily adult men over 55 years old.
77 percent were in the south county.
23 percent were in the central and northern part of the county.
The new report says most of the homeless deaths are linked to drug, alcohol or cardiovascular issues.
A year ago the leading cause of death was blunt force trauma.
The winter months ahead may seem like a time where the homeless will be facing street survival issues, but, “ the season of death, it moves around. It is not always in the winter, " said Dana Gamble, the Assistant Deputy Director for Primary Care at the Santa Barbara County Health Department.
He says the “ consistency of the substance abuse and mental health issues that coincide with these deaths it's ongoing and somehow related in the majority of the deaths."
One man who lives outside some of the time, says he has medical care through a family plan, and needed to go see a doctor today.
"Usually I just go into the clinic. Right now I think I have a spider bite on my head,” said Jon Owen at a Santa Barbara park. “I am probably going to go in there today actually."
Medical officials say establishing at least a baseline relationship with a doctor is vital to head off critical medical problems.
Santa Barbara County Public Health Director, Dr. Charity Dean says, “even if they choose not to be housed or don't want to stay in a shelter, if they can get on MediCal and get a trust relationship with a contact whether it's behavioral wellness or public health, that's a place to start."
She says just being in the system if they have an emergency will help a homeless person get urgent care, and a followup plan.
Ultimately Dean says preventative care is the first choice and the best choice before someone has a life threatening illness.
On the streets, and in local shelters, there is also a united effort to help with homeless intervention efforts for both health care and housing to ease the challenges that could lead to deaths.
"Whether it's referring someone to sober living or getting them on the right medication for their mental health diagnosis, that's part of solving the homeless problem," said Dean.
The report goes on to say 71 percent of the homeless who died in the last year had received services from Public Health, Cottage Hospital or Marian Hospital. 98 percent had contact with the Sheriff's department. The Department of Social Services saw 68 percent of those who died.
Santa Barbara County says multiple agencies are working regularly to provide lifesaving services.