.Record Number Of Unhoused Deaths

The Homeless Memorial honored the 122 unhoused people who died in 2023

Around 200 people went to the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium Thursday for the annual Homeless Memorial to pay tribute to the record number of unhoused people who died this year. 

Marie Riggs was among those in attendance.

About seven years ago, Marie Riggs was living in a homeless shelter and addicted to alcohol, wondering how she would survive this low point in her life.

“I was a hopeless mess,” she says. “I had no idea how to live, I didn’t know how to act.”

But Riggs also had a friend in Charles Green, who encouraged her to join a program that would help her get clean. He even drove her to the front door of the program and visited her every two weeks, she says. 

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She was there to honor Green, who is no longer in her life. He died this year at 68 while experiencing homelessness.

“He smiled all the time, and he just encouraged,” she says. “He never gave up on me.”

Joey Crottogini, Health Center Manager for the Homeless Persons Health Project (HPHP), says that 122 people died this year, a record number and a 40% increase from last year.

The number includes 61 who died from accidental Fentanyl overdoses. 

A recent census counted roughly 1,800 homeless people in Santa Cruz County, a number that does not include those that are doubling up in acquaintances’ homes or “couch surfing,” Crottogini said. 

“What we’re hoping to do today is really honor and celebrate the lives of those that we’ve lost and bring some dignity and respect to them as well. These aren’t just people experiencing homelessness,” Crottogini said. “These are human beings that we’ve loved, that we’ve worked with. They’re family members.”

The event is also intended to  bring attention to the issues affecting unhoused people, Crottogini says. 

“We want to bring attention to the fact that this is unacceptable for our community,” he says. 

David Davis, who produced a report on the county’s homeless population, says that this year’s number living outside decreased from last year, thanks to efforts to successfully house 911 people. 

Still, the number of those that died is sobering, Davis said.

“This is the first year that we’ve eclipsed 100 deaths in a calendar year,” he said. 

A man who identified himself as “Joe” was sitting outside the Civic after the ceremony, sitting on a beat-up backpack and smoking a cigarette. He says he came out of respect for his “brothers and sisters.”

“It could be me they’re honoring next,” he says. 


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