County Confirms Deaths of 22 Indigent Individuals in 2016

Advocates for the homeless protest at City Hall
Advocates for the homeless protested at City Hall in 2015.

Washoe County confirmed today that 22 indigent people died in 2016. Those were “individuals who were without any fixed address,” said Washoe County’s Chris Ciarlo.

Mike Thornton of ACTIONN, which advocates for low-income and homeless individuals, said that it was previously reported that there were no deaths of such people in the Reno area last year. Advocacy groups held a vigil for these populations on Dec. 22, 2016.

“Since the housing situation of an individual can (sometimes) be difficult to determine, there may be some ‘missed cases’ and additional deaths of houseless/homeless people that were not accounted for as such,” Thornton said.

County Medical Examiner Dr. Laura Knight said that circumstances of each individual would have to be looked into further to determine their housing status.

“We would have to review each of the 22 cases individually to determine whether they were ‘living rough’/residing in homeless encampments, just between residences/couch-surfing, or other circumstances,” she said. “People who reside in places like long-term stay motels, etc., we record the address of the motel. So ‘houseless’ is not an accurate term. There also may be cases that are not identified, as we may not have had information on the individual’s living circumstances — for example, natural deaths occurring in hospitals.”

Causes of death were:

  • Accident: 11
  • Natural: 7
  • Homicide: 0
  • Suicide: 1
  • Undetermined: 1
  • Pending Additional Testing/Investigation: 2

One female and 21 males died in 2016.

“ACTIONN, RISE and other concerned groups are advocating for a ‘safeground’ so that houseless/homeless individuals, families and children can live in a stable place that will give them access to sanitation, services and police protection which respects their civil rights,” Thornton added. “We are also advocating to stop the criminalization of houselessness/homelessness and poverty so that people are not forced to hide, and perhaps put themselves in life threatening situations.”

A source with the City of Reno said that the city is looking for a permanent overflow shelter for when people in need, need a place to stay and the Community Assistance Center facilities are full. Both the temporary overflow shelter and CAC are full, sources said.

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Bob Conrad is proprietor and co-founder of ThisisReno. He manages ThisisReno and Conrad Communications, LLC, his marketing communications consulting company (disclosure: client work includes projects funded by grants through UNR) and is an adjunct faculty member at Truckee Meadows Community College. He is a contributor to Reno Public Radio.