SANTA ANA, Calif.—Orange County witnessed an increase in homeless deaths over the past five years, according to Orange County Health Care Agency (OCHCA) Director Clayton Chau.
The cause of deaths among the homeless population remains unknown, Chau said, as he debunked the myth that the homeless were dying from COVID-19. He cited the 390 homeless individuals that passed away in 2021 with only a dozen dying from COVID-19.
“I want to make sure that I dispel that myth, but we’ve been working with the coroner’s office to look at the data and see what are the cause of death—ranging from homicide to suicide to accidental death to chronic health condition.”
To respond to the crisis, OCHCA is partnering with insurance provider CalOptima to increase health care access to the homeless population—a project that will be announced at a later date.
“The goal of the project is really to get people the right care at the right place at the right time, and not having people wait until they [are] very sick,” Chau said.
To further combat the effort to assist the homeless, Chairman of the Orange County Supervisors Doug Chaffee highlighted the efforts to turn motels into housing for the homeless.
The City of Stanton is currently undergoing a project and Anaheim has three potential sites.
To reach a goal of providing about 2700 affordable housing units, Orange County is requesting $30 million from the state to help with financing the units, according to Chaffee.
Orange County officials called for more volunteers to assist with this year’s homeless count.
The bi-annual Point-in-Time homeless count helps determine the county’s allocation of funds and resources to address the homeless crisis, Orange County Health Care Agency Director of Care Coordination Doug Becht.
“This is a truly unique opportunity to volunteer and serve your community,” Becht said at a press conference. “It allows you to help engage and help your neighbors experiencing homelessness in a unique and impactful way.
Over 525 volunteers have been recruited and another 100 volunteers are sought, Becht said.
Volunteers are required to show proof of full vaccination status—including proof of a booster shot. Unvaccinated volunteers must provide a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours of a volunteer shift.
The Point in Time homeless count will take place between Feb. 21 to Feb. 24.
Meanwhile, hospitalizations in the county are on the decline, Chau said. He reported that positivity rates have also decreased to a seven-day average of just over 1000 cases—with 700 cases reported on Feb. 15.
The 7.3 percent decrease of COVID-19 cases in the area has also resulted in a drop of hospitalizations to about 431 patients with 70 being in the ICU, according to Chau.
Chau further reported that 22 minors are currently hospitalized with three being in the ICU.
As of Tuesday, 74 percent of the eligible population of five years and older are fully vaccinated with over 80 percent receiving one dose, Chau said.
“All these numbers [are] a positive sign that our most recent surge is slowing down, not only here in Orange County, but throughout the state and nation,” Chau said.
The decrease in cases comes as the state prepares to lift the indoor mask mandate for those who are fully vaccinated at most facilities on Feb. 16.
The indoor mask requirement will continue to apply for high-risk areas such as shelters, jails, and K–12 schools. However, on Feb. 28, the state is going to reconsider its mandate K-12 schools.
While some parents are fed up with the mask mandate for K–12 schools, Chau reminded residents that a local health officer, like himself, can’t issue guidance that is less restrictive than the state.
“I’ve gotten a lot of questions [about] how come you don’t do this and you don’t do that,” Chau said.
As the future of masks in schools remain unknown, Chau said the health agency received complaints of one private school not following state’s mask guidance.
To ensure compliance, the health care agency reported the school to the state, who then warned the school to abide by state policy, according to Chau.