Homeless deaths on the rise

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RENO, Nev., (KOLO) The Medical Examiner says 27 homeless persons died in Washoe County last year. That's an increase over the 22 who died the previous year.

Most of the 27 were men. A few were staying with friends or in RVs. All without fixed addresses. The causes of death were varied, including ten by accident, two homicides and two suicides, nine from natural causes. But, it can be argued, their lack of permanent homes was a factor.

"It's almost impossible to get ahead on your health or your finances without stable housing," says J.D. Klippenstein, the Executive Director of Acting in Community Together in Organizing Northern Nevada (ACTIONN). So I think the vast majority of those can be linked back to homelessness, exposure to the elements and just the lack of stable housing in general."

ACTIONN is a faith-based community organizing group which advocates for the homeless.

He says he finds the increase in homeless deaths especially frustrating as it's coming at a time of increased economic activity which promises better times for many, but threatens to leave others behind.

"Even though we're seeing growth, on the other end of the spectrum we're seeing more people who are faced with life and death situations, more people who are not getting the resources they need."

He and others are seeing a new homeless population out here. Those who may have a job or an income, but have simply been priced out of the housing market.

"And then the folks that are already experiencing homelessness, that means there's even less resources to help those folks. So it's really a housing crunch on a massive level."

Solutions aren't easy to come by, but he says the overall issue is a matter of resources.

"I think now's the time to think about how we both publicly and privately invest in affordable housing, how do we ensure the economic growth that we're seeing is in some way leading to greater resources for people who are experiencing homelessness."

And he says--on a public policy level--it's time to think about what we're doing to those being left behind in this economic boom. Otherwise he says this grim trend will continue.