Death in the open

Sacramento’s homeless community prepares to remember lives lost during an especially deadly year for those outside

A memorial ceremony for homeless Sacramentans who died this year is 7 p.m., December 21 at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.

Every year, dozens of people die on the streets of Sacramento. The annual memorial service for those who were lost comes months after confirmation of an especially grim 2017.

In late August, the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness reported that 124 homeless people died in the county last year. This marked a 75 percent increase from 2016 and the highest total since at least 2003.

The report attributed the increase to factors such as a lack of affordable housing and emergency shelter. It noted more than 2,000 unsheltered homeless being counted last year, more than twice the number in 2015.

Once people are on the streets, they have exponentially higher odds of calamity. The report noted that local homeless residents faced a mortality rate 4.7 times higher than the general public last year, as well as a suicide rate 14.7 times higher and a homicide rate 23.4 times higher.

The dead included 56-year-old Randy Koroush, who served as a volunteer groundskeeper at the state Capitol for more than 20 years before dying in February 2017. Koroush’s 82-year-old father James told SN&R that his son had pneumonia, leaving him with only one working lung. Koroush collapsed near Richards Boulevard and was later taken off life support after his other lung failed.

James said his son had been a Boy Scout, Little League baseball player and, later, a Raley’s office employee before becoming homeless “by choice.” While this choice mystified relatives, whose help Randy declined, James said his son worked hard while tending the Capitol grounds.

“I’m told that he was there before the groundskeepers ever got there every morning,” James said.

The city continues to look at ways to deal with the homeless crisis, with Mayor Darrell Steinberg’s office announcing Monday that a North Sacramento triage shelter will remain open through mid-July.

Bob Erlenbusch, who assembles the homeless death report each year, would like to see the city go a step further, saying, “We need to bring all homeless people inside, i.e. ‘a bed for every head.’”