Oakland's Homeless Americans Die Uncounted As Mayor Protects Illegal Immigrants

It should go without saying that homelessness elevates an individual’s risk of illness, injury and death. Having little access to health care or healthy food, even homeless people living in milder climates like, for example, the Bay Area, pass away decades earlier than people who have access to housing and health-care.

According to data provided by the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, the average age of death for a homeless person is 50 - which was the average age of deaths for all Americans in 1900, before the discovery of modern antibiotics.

But while the bitter reality that homeless people face is evident to every American who feels the sting of guilt every time they ignore a panhandler on a busy city street,, few state and local governments accurately collect comprehensive data specifically identifying a deceased individual as homeless - meaning that the data is incomplete.


In rapidly gentrifying Oakland, an investigation by the San Francisco Chronicle determined that thousands of homeless who die within the city limits aren’t officially identified as homeless on their death certificates, making it easier for public officials to ignore a worsening crisis as rising property values and rents increasingly push the most vulnerable individuals out onto the streets.


Meanwhile, Mayor Libby Schaaf is more concerned with protecting undocumented immigrants, even immigrants with violent criminal histories than she is with ensuring the city’s most vulnerable legal residents are attended to - or, at least, that some degree of outreach or acknowledgement is extended to this steadily rising population.


In its story, the Chronicle, opens with the example of Larry Bothelo, whose dead body was discovered decomposing in his truck, which he kept parked near the Oakland Airport. Nothing in Bothelo’s documents indicated that he was homeless. In fact, the corner listed his address as the streetcorner from which his truck was eventually towed away.

It had been weeks since Larry Joseph Botelho was spotted outside the box truck he lived in and kept parked near the Oakland airport. By the time someone asked police to check on him, the 63-year-old homeless man’s body was decomposing on a makeshift bed in the truck.

The Alameda County coroner’s office determined he died of natural causes. An investigator tracked down doctors, social workers and former employers, ran fingerprints, reviewed government records and an ancestry website, but found no relatives.

Botelho was cremated as an indigent — his ashes sent to Holy Cross Cemetery in Antioch, and his truck towed. Coroner’s case No. 01378 was closed.

Nothing in the official record shows he died homeless. His death certificate lists a home address: the spot on 98th Avenue where his truck was parked.

As the Chronicle notes, Alameda County - a county that encompasses Oakland and the surrounding area - does not collect data on how many homeless people die each year or their causes of death. And even if it did - neither the state nor the federal government track these data, or require them to be collected, meaning that even the figures cited above constitute very rough estimates.


However, even without clear data, advocates for the homeless agree that the twin problems of homelessness and homeless mortaility are rapidly getting worse - not just in the Bay Area, but across the US. In New York City and many other cities across the country, homeless people are dying in obscurity at increasingly high rates.

The Chronicle checked with coroners’ and medical examiners’ offices, county public health departments, the California Department of Public Health, U.S. Health and Human Services, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and found that none had records on how many homeless people die — or mandates to collect the information.

The California Electronic Death Registration System, a database run by the state Department of Public Health, occasionally gets a death certificate where "homeless" or "encampment" is listed in place of a person’s residence, said spokeswoman Theresa Mier. But there aren’t any guidelines for doctors or medical examiners on when to use the designation.

Likewise, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department doesn’t have information or know of any national estimates on deaths of homeless individuals, said spokeswoman Carla Daniels.

What’s left is a smattering of local agencies and nonprofits that track homeless death rates in a piecemeal way. Their data lack a standardized definition of what constitutes homelessness, rendering their numbers erratic and unrealiable.


One local official justified this approach by arguing that it helps keep the dignity of the deceased intact - and that often, in cases when a next of kin can be found - it shows that the police aren’t judging them.

Once a homeless person dies — usually decades earlier than the U.S. life expectancy — investigators proceed with the same steps they do for any deceased person, said Lt. David Vandagriff, who runs the Alameda County coroner’s bureau.

First, they identify the dead. Next, they track down the family. Autopsies are conducted and reports are made. But a person’s housing status often does not make it into the official record.
If investigators can track down an address associated with the dead — where an estranged spouse lives or the place they would pick up mail — they often won’t be marked as homeless in the paperwork that documents how they died and who they were. If they find no address, they may write “homeless” or “transient” in that section of a death record.

"We are duty bound to show them respect and dignity," Vandagriff said. "Quite often when we’re interacting with next of kin, we want to show them that this is not something that we’re judging your departed on. We’re not classifying them as anything other than a departed member of your family."

Unlike Oakland, San Francisco and Contra Costa County do keep track of homeless mortaility data - but in each case, officials cautioned that the data are likely a significant underestimation.

In San Francisco, a woman named Alice, who for years lived on the sidewalk outside a Burger King, likely will not be included in the city’s 2018 count because she moved into a single-room-occupancy hotel in the Mission before she died last month, said Rachael Kagan, spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Public Health.

Unlike Oakland, San Francisco compiles the number of homeless people who die each year. But officials caution that their count is probably a significant underestimation because homeless people who spend their last days in housing or a hospital may not make the tally.

In Contra Costa County, Capt. Steve Simpkins of the coroner’s office provided numbers but emphasized they aren’t perfectly accurate. They showed that an average of 33 homeless people died each year over the past decade, but last year the figure jumped to 64. He said nothing was readily apparent to explain the increase.

The lack of systematic data — or any data at all — when it comes to people dying on the streets is in sharp contrast to the concerted effort to count how many people are living on the streets.

One recent attempt to conduct an informal census of the homeless population in Oakland revealed an alarming figure: Last year in Alameda County, the so-called point-in-time census revealed a 25% jump in the homeless population in Oakland and a nearly 40% increase countywide.

Bobby Watts, CEO of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, said it’s vital to know the mortality rate of the homeless population.

"It’s the first and most basic measure of health or public health: Is someone alive or dead?" he said. "It’s an extremely important measure. It’s something we need to know. Some localities do a better job than others."

Cities that do make efforts to collect data noted an increase in homeless deaths last year, Watts said.

The collection of uniform and reliable homeless death data could help create policies to prevent deaths, say some health and homeless services providers. It could also help spur action to tackle the crisis.

"This is information that can be used to create interventions and just to underscore the long-term solution of housing," Watts said. “It doesn’t have to be 100 percent accurate, but it’s better to have some good information than none at all.”

Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, said if more people knew how dire homelessness is — by way of mortality statistics, for instance — there might be a heightened sense of urgency.

"A lot of people don’t understand how serious a problem this is and who is affected and why," she said. "When people are dying — that’s just another piece of evidence that it’s a public health emergency."

Lucy Kasdin, deputy director of Alameda County’s Health Care for the Homeless unit, said statistics on homeless deaths would be “incredibly valuable” in developing interventions and figuring out how to best allocate resources.

But even as city officials pour money into clinics for the homeless, one researcher says data conclusively show that the only real remedy for improving longevity would be to provide housing - everything else is like putting  a band-aid on a bullet wound.

Josh Bamberger, a UCSF physician who has been treating homeless patients for the past two decades, said there’s already sufficient data on the perils of homelessness.

"We have mountains of data to tell us why homelessness is bad," he said. "It’s bad for your health, it’s expensive, and it kills you at a younger age."

He pointed to a 2009 research paper he co-authored that examined the impact of housing on the survival of homeless people with AIDS. Only two out of 71 placed in housing died after five years. In the same period, three-quarters of the 610 people without housing had died. Some studies have indicated that homelessness is correlated with a 25-year decrease in one’s life expectancy.

“If the health care system embraced housing as the one and true treatment to improve the health of homeless people, that money would be well spent,” Bamberger said. “I used to believe I should put my energies in providing the best care. … But there’s an absurdity in having a patient with perfect blood pressure, perfect control of their sugar and treatment of their cancers and then rolling them out in their wheelchair into the rain.”

But as mayors like Schaaf risk losing federal block-grant funding over their categorical defenses of “sanctuary cities” and the undocumented, the downside of this is the population that is truly the most vulnerable is shunted aside and ignored.

Which begs the question: How many bodies in the streets will it take before city officials decide to take a closer look at homeless mortality and the steps that could be taken to ameliorate it.


Karl Marxist Belrev Mon, 03/12/2018 - 18:01 Permalink

The blockchain and the Bitcoin built are the revolution intended not to bring any of the financial criminals like Jamie Dimon or the Clintons to any actual task but to bypass their system completely without a shred of any of them. If they are brought to task, it must be in the history books and for the actual crimes, the sheer magnitude of them and the damaged caused which far exceeds every war fought in human history because theirs is the destruction that keeps on giving until the new systems to save humanity are in place. Your help is welcome.

In reply to by Belrev

Freddie stacking12321 Mon, 03/12/2018 - 17:19 Permalink

Trump should call California out and so should Session on this but he is too busy hugging Bibi.  Meanwhile, Jared Kushner-Soros at 666 Park Ave. and Ivanka Soros-Clinton attend more parties with Soros and the Clintons. 

So much for draining the swamp and the Q Anon hoax.  Yeah the military inside good guys are going to save us with Q Anon.   Meanwhile - Julian Assange rots and Kim.com's business was stolen from him and DOj is still after him.

In reply to by stacking12321

Conscious Reviver Freddie Mon, 03/12/2018 - 21:26 Permalink

The Q Anon hoax! How do these dream boats go on living, getting played over and over again? 

Where's Grandad Grumps?

"Conscious Reviver Grandad Grumps Thu, 03/08/2018 - 05:03Permalink

Thanks for sharing that Grandpaw. I'm setting my watch.

I think it's all a scripted melodrama. Look at it this way. These Banksters knew the Ponsi would die. They've been down this road many timed before. They get to make some choices about specifics and timing. Who can believe that they don't have a plan for the Ponzi end game? They do. And you and I are all watching it.

I say they will never arrest anybody / operative, because if they do, they endanger their mafia system. You can't throw your capo's and turncoats under the bus or pretty soon, you won't have any."

And scrappy? Where's he at?

"Conscious Reviver scrappyThu, 03/08/2018 - 21:21Permalink

Regarding the March 11 arests, are you going to come around and realize you're being played when nothing happens?"

In reply to by Freddie

stacking12321 sister tika Mon, 03/12/2018 - 18:10 Permalink

wow, good memory.

yes, in my younger days, i was more interested in experiencing altered states of consciousness, than i was in work or money or having a "home".

i wouldn't say i "recovered" from it though, more like my path went in a different direction for a while.

i do look back fondly on those days, though, having the freedom to read, to meditate, to travel, whenever i wanted, no commitments. that's why i don't look down on, or pity those who are homeless.

In reply to by sister tika

stacking12321 ChiangMaiXPat Mon, 03/12/2018 - 18:01 Permalink

yes i'm a capitalist, and proud of it - everyone who doesn't want to be poor should be a capitalist.

false, not lacking in empathy. handouts don't help people, and war on poverty caused an increase in poverty, as it made more people dependent on handouts. remember, what you subsidize, increases. why do you want more poor people?

"Living in denial is so liberating." - that's a fucked-up thing to say, and untrue. living in denial is oppressive, better to stick to the truth.

In reply to by ChiangMaiXPat

Karl Marxist stacking12321 Mon, 03/12/2018 - 18:08 Permalink

What if one's truths lead to a denial of all things material? Is "death" not a better option to the must have-can't have constructs of life in a body of meat? Your body needs food to eat everyday, but are you your body? Who made you agree to existing in this physical realm? Life itself will rob you of all your material wealth but you just gotta come back again and again to play the game "better next time" but that is a losing proposition down, down, down the dwindling spiral of life until one becomes a Clinton or an Obama or a Bush, so sayeth the Christ, the Buddha.

In reply to by stacking12321

stacking12321 Karl Marxist Mon, 03/12/2018 - 18:28 Permalink

"What if one's truths lead to a denial of all things material?"

then i'd say one would be well served to stop the denial, and accept the truth, because accepting the truth is liberating.


"Who made you agree to existing in this physical realm?"

that's like asking who made water agree to become an ice cube. the conditions cause the ice to solidify, and the ice cube tray gives it form. it stays as an ice cube for a while, and then it melts back into water.


"Life itself will rob you of all your material wealth but you just gotta come back again and again to play the game "better next time""

i've seen that movie, it's called "groundhog day", bill murray was great in it.


"but that is a losing proposition down, down, down the dwindling spiral of life until one becomes a Clinton or an Obama or a Bush, so sayeth the Christ, the Buddha."

spiraling down to hell? doesn't sound like a teaching of jesus or buddha, as far as i know, but i don't really follow those guys, i do my own thing.

In reply to by Karl Marxist

Dr. Acula Karl Marxist Mon, 03/12/2018 - 19:44 Permalink

>What if one's truths lead to a denial of all things material... Life itself will rob you of all your material wealth but you just gotta come back again and again to play the game "better next time" but that is a losing proposition

If you identify with being the universe rather than your body, then your life doesn't end and the wealth doesn't get robbed from you.


In reply to by Karl Marxist

Omen IV ChiangMaiXPat Mon, 03/12/2018 - 19:09 Permalink

its time for California Taxpayers to do the right thing - There needs to be a 50% income tax and property tax  surcharge on all citizens above $50,000 income to provide for:

The homeless

The refugees

The illegals

The mentally incompetent

The criminals

The black and brown with an IQ less than 100

The blind

The deaf

The people who have FUN and procreate without the means to pay for their FUN


Its time for California labor to declare they work for everyone but...................themselves!


In reply to by ChiangMaiXPat

uhland62 DosZap Mon, 03/12/2018 - 22:10 Permalink

Same thing in Germany. My brother died in Berlin because the new landlord developed other plans for the building and he could not get other accommodation because he'd been unemployed for about 7 years.

When all of the former Eastblock became entitled to work in Germany the over 50 year old Germans could not find new work. The asylum seekers and refugees are GIVEN housing by the German government, but not a native German. Police could not even be bothered with investigating whether it was suicide by setting the apartment alight or whether the heavies of the landlord had come in the middle of the night. There was another convenient fire a week later to toss out all tenants. And before, the German government had gifted our land to the French government. That's democracy and freedom, NATO country and great ally. 

In reply to by DosZap

GunnyG Mon, 03/12/2018 - 17:07 Permalink

Fucking Bitch needs to be drug out of the building and Mussolini'd. Liberals are the filth of the planet and the enemies of freedom and liberty (and the RINOs ain't no better, right McLame)?

ChiangMaiXPat Snaffew Mon, 03/12/2018 - 17:43 Permalink

Snaffew...ZH is so predictable. I come here for the honest great journalism but I have no illusions. I knew when I read the piece that in the comments section rather than hold to account Schaff and other politicians for their lack of empathy, illegal & immoral acts you deride the homeless. However I keep forgetting the central theme of this platform is the “Market” and the beautiful people that come with it.

In reply to by Snaffew

BeansMcGreens ChiangMaiXPat Mon, 03/12/2018 - 18:23 Permalink

The fact that Larry Bothelo was sixty-three and eligible for social security and owned a truck shows something of a prior productive life. No one bothers to check-out a truck sitting on a street corner, even listing said corner as HIS ADDRESS. I guess in oakland where-ever you lay your hat is your home.

It is the politicians, with their allowing the Ghost Ship to burn like right across the street basically from the fire department, and surely no one lost their job, or even got reprimended. Or the cop cowering while kids are shot down. Oh well, off to retirement/pension land.

In reply to by ChiangMaiXPat

Snaffew ChiangMaiXPat Mon, 03/12/2018 - 19:08 Permalink

I deride the homeless?  It seems far harder for an illegal immigrant that doesn't speak the language to find work than a far more educated homeless person who chooses not to.  While there are always exceptions to the rule, it seems that many of the homeless have made it their choice.  This is different than a tent city.  It seems everyone wants to blame the immigrants for the despair of the homeless.  It is in no way, shape or form the fault of the immigrant who illegally crosses the border.  Have you given your local homeless person food, shelter and money today or any day for that matter?  how can you possibly put the blame for lack of empathy on the politicians when you have not done jack shit to help.  Just another piker preaching the bullshit truth.  

In reply to by ChiangMaiXPat

Mazzy besnook Mon, 03/12/2018 - 17:38 Permalink

Why work for $10/hr. in an area with expensive housing when you could work for $10/hr. in Ohio or Arkansas and at least afford a place to live?

If people were willing to FUCKING MOVE the economics of wages and distance would self-correct.  Quit bitching and let the invisible hand take over.  If you can't afford San Fran., so what?  Go to Missouri, South Carolina....something....anything else.

In reply to by besnook