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Opinion: Some of the 300 Denver homeless deaths this year occurred among the housed

Opinion: Some of the 300 Denver homeless deaths this year occurred among the housed
Opinion: Some of the 300 Denver homeless deaths this year occurred among the housed

Randle Loeb reads an eloquent poem about living and dying homeless.Photo byDenver Community Media

Advocates for the homeless read the names Thursday of more than 300 unhoused people who died in Denver during the past year.

The event, sponsored by Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, decorated the steps of the City and County Building. Several hundred people gathered.

Many of those who perished had been forgotten by friends and family, but they did not go unnoticed on this earth. Finding data about homeless deaths proves difficult for Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, sponsor of the event, every year. “For the fifth year in a row, Denver’s Office of the Medical Examiner has not provided CCH with complete demographic data on these individuals, which makes it difficult to fully understand the impact and nature of these deaths,” CCH reported online.

I recognized at least two names on the list as former residents of my building. Sadly, not everyone’s risk of death goes down when they move indoors. In some cases, the risk appears to go up.

Narcan saves lives

Many drug users on the streets get their lives saved every day by friends and family who carry Narcan, the opioid antidote. But when drug users move indoors, they begin to use drugs alone, without other people around to save them.

Several people in my building have died of overdose, according to numerous residents. Craig Arfsten for Citizens for a Safe and Clean Denver asked Coalition spokesperson Cathy Alderman just how many have died at Fusion of overdose.

“I can assure you that the information you received below about there being 30-40 overdose deaths within the last three years at Fusion Studios is not accurate,” Alderman wrote in an email to Arfsten. “We were aware of several overdose events last year where fentanyl was later found in the rooms. Upon reviewing security footage and interviewing residents, we discovered that an individual had been trespassing on the property and had entered each of the units prior to the death. We shared that information with the police. We know that because of the closeness of these events, that many residents were traumatized and fearful and we have been working to provide additional supportive resources to them as well as better recovery support and treatment to those in the building who we are aware are misusing substances. However … we do not mandate that people engage with recovery services or submit to substance use testing as a requirement for housing just like you and I are not required to be substance free in order to be housed. “

Overdose risk follows homeless indoors

Meanwhile, people are dying. A record number of those living on Denver’s streets died of overdose this year. Overdose accounted for more than 68% of the deaths, according to data analyzed by CCH. Other causes of death included: Chronic disease 7.9%, blunt force 5%, environmental 4.6% , firearm 2.9%, alcohol related 2.5% and sharp force 1.7%.

Prior to reading the names, Coalition Board Member Randle Loeb, a Coalition client, read a beautiful poem. It described how homeless people battled “the adversity they’d been given as a life sentence, left wondering if they’d be better off dead.” Of homelessness, Loeb opined, “Your life is forfeited long before the end comes, and you succumb.”

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