SANTA ANA, Calif.—As homeless deaths have been on the rise in Orange County, officials say they're determined to find the root causes.
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes announced the formation of the first homeless death review committee on Jan. 26.
For years, the Sheriff’s Department and Coroner’s Office have tracked homeless deaths, but will now take an in-depth approach in hopes of reducing the number of deaths.
“This Review Committee presents an opportunity to make data-driven policy decisions that will ultimately result in lives saved and an enhanced quality of life for our community,” Barnes said in a statement.
The county reported over 380 homeless deaths in 2021—slightly higher than the nearly 340 deaths in 2020—but a leap from the almost 220 deaths reported in 2019 and 210 deaths in 2018, according to Orange County Sheriff’s spokesman Ryan Anderson.
The committee is built of private and public sectors committed to reviewing homeless deaths and finding preventable factors.
Serving the committee are representatives of the county's coroner’s office, health care agency, social services agency, as well as the Hospital Association of Southern California, and the Orange County Medical Association.
While Barnes serves as county coroner, he excused himself from working on the task force to avoid it becoming “political,” he announced at a Jan. 25 Board of Supervisors meeting.
“I want it to be clear, run-on unbiased facts,” Barnes said.
The committee will hold its first meeting in spring 2022.