By Susan B. Parks, President & CEO, Orange County United Way, Steve Churm, Executive Vice President, Public Affairs FivePoint Holdings, LLC, and Lawrence R. Armstrong, Chairman, Ware Malcomb
Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG
This year has brought with it more challenges than we ever could have imagined. Chief among them is a global pandemic that has led to an alarming and still-growing number of deaths, millions of lost jobs, damaged livelihoods, reductions in income, and a precipitous rise in mental health issues.
While Orange County appropriately remains hyper-focused on the COVID-19 health crisis, we can’t forget about our most vulnerable population; our homeless neighbors who are not only living on the streets, but dying on them in growing and troubling numbers.
On December 21, we recognize National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day or “The Longest Night” to remember and honor our lost neighbors, friends, and family members who died this year while experiencing homelessness.
According to the Orange County Coroner Division, 301 individuals have died on the streets this year so far, compared to 209 cumulative deaths for all of 2019.
The causes of these deaths vary: from physical illness to mental health issues; from addiction to violent attacks. We need to learn from these deaths and, as a community, be better at anticipating and addressing why they are happening.
Regardless of the causes, 301 deaths and counting are unacceptable. No human being should die homeless and we must recognize that this is unacceptable.
Homelessness is much more than the obvious absence of physical housing; it’s a stressful, trauma-filled, and treacherous condition that often results in injuries and fatalities. Thousands of our neighbors have lost hope on the streets.
It’s more important than ever to establish Orange County as a community that supports it’s most vulnerable. As a united community, we must provide the dignity, respect and safety our homeless neighbors need.
At Orange County United Way, our United to End Homelessness initiative is committed to finding long-term housing solutions for those who need it most: our homeless veterans, former foster youth, and the chronically homeless.