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County: 49 homeless people died in 2020 (updated)

By Bob Conrad
Published: Last Updated on
People living in a homeless camp in downtown Reno had to vacate the area early June 3 as RPD moved in to clean the area. Image: Eric Marks
Indigent Deaths in Washoe County
Indigent Deaths in Washoe County, 2020. Data: Washoe County Medical Examiner.

Washoe County today confirmed deaths of homeless people in the county jumped from 2019. There were 49 deaths of those determined to be “indigent” — or having no fixed address.

The 49 is up 11 deaths from the 38 reported last year.

“There were 49 homeless deaths in Washoe County in 2020, as defined by the Medical Examiner’s database as having an address listed as ‘no fixed address.’ Only one of the deaths was due to COVID-19,” said county spokesperson Bethany Drysdale.

Those who died were primarily male – 38 – while 11 females died. The causes of death were primarily accidental (22), natural death (14), suicides (2) and undetermined causes.

“This year amplified failures that have been building for years. We lost friends who we have worked with for years in the isolation and danger,” said Jay Kolbet-Clausell, board president for the Reno Initiative for Shelter and Equality.” Our hearts go out to the friends and family who are left behind and we hope that Reno/Sparks, Nevada, and the United States will begin a new path of compassion and reasoned safety planning.”

The news comes after a year that homeless advocates say was particularly difficult for the unsheltered in the region. They faced extra hardship in large part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Also in 2020, for the first time in years, the Reno Police Department cited homeless people for camping and officers were documented to have been harassing people near the Wells overpass in June.

Police say camps were riddled with crime. Government properties were hit with health code violations that, by law, meant the camps had to be dispersed and cleaned. However, recent visits to river camps showed the homeless population as large as ever.

The deaths among indigents have more than doubled since 2016, when the county first started reporting such data.

  • 2016: 22
  • 2017: 27
  • 2018: 37
  • 2019: 38
  • 2020: 49


Male: 38
Female: 11


19 and under: 0
20-29: 3
30-39: 5
40-49: 7
50-59: 14
60-69: 12
70-79: 7
80 and over: 1

Manner of Death

Accident: 22
Natural: 14
Pending: 6
Undetermined: 5
Suicide: 2
Homicide: 0

UPDATE Jan. 9: This story was updated to include a quote by Jay Kolbet-Clausell, RISE’s board president, which had been sent prior to publication.

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