Two homeless men in Fresno CA die on the streets during the heat wave

Two homeless people died on the streets of Fresno during the triple-digit heat wave in the first week of September.

The Fresno County Coroner’s Office, however, said both deaths were likely due to drug use rather than high temperatures.

“We see cases like this… all year round, no matter how hot it gets,” Coroner’s Office spokesman Tony Botti said in a call with The Bee on Thursday. “True heat-related deaths are extremely rare” because there are usually other health and drug issues that are contributing factors, he said.

Botti confirmed that a homeless man, in his 60s, died Sept. 1 in downtown Fresno. That day, temperatures in Fresno soared to 106 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

The man’s body was found in downtown Fresno near the corner of Van Ness Avenue and Ventura Street. Botti said the man had a “drug history”, but the cause of death was still unknown.

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A single shoe, clothes and pieces of cardboard lie behind the Livingstone restaurant and pub in the Fresno’s Tower area Thursday, September 8, 2022. Homeless people often gather in the shade near the dumpsters behind the restaurant . Melissa Montalvo Fresno/Fresnoland Bee

Another man was found dead behind the Livingstone restaurant and pub in Fresno’s arts and culture district on September 4, a day when Fresno saw a high of 107 degrees.

Botti said the death “appears to be an overdose”.

The coroner’s office is still trying to contact the family members of the deceased. The causes of death are still unclear and a final toxicology report in each case will take approximately four weeks.

Botti explained that Fresno often sees homeless deaths linked to methamphetamine overdoses. “Methamphetamine makes the body so hot that it usually kills the person if it’s on it,” Botti said.

According to medical research published in the Journal of Pharmacology & Therapeutics, methamphetamine use can induce extreme hyperthermia, a condition in which the body overheats above normal temperature. Fatal drug overdoses are usually associated with extreme hyperthermia.

But continued heat exposure can also harm the health of the 1,700 people estimated to be homeless in Fresno.

A Fresnoland report released Sept. 1 found that between 77 and 81 people died of heat-related illness in Fresno from 2006 to 2021, according to data from the California Department of Public Health. Fresnoland surveyed about two dozen homeless Fresno residents who said the summer heat caused them headaches, dizziness, dehydration, exhaustion or complications from other health conditions.

Substance use disorders only complicate matters, especially when drugs such as methamphetamine increase core body temperature.

Regardless of the exact cause of death, “trying to survive on the streets of Fresno is the hardest thing,” Dez Martinez, founder of We Are Not Invisible and president of the Fresno Homeless Union, said in an interview. with The Bee on Thursday.

“Especially when it’s over 111 degrees outside and people are in direct sunlight.”

Fresno heat and meth conditions meet on the streets

Fresno has long struggled with its methamphetamine epidemic, which has garnered national attention in recent years. Over the past four years, Fresno County has had more than 350 deaths from methamphetamine overdoses, Botti said. There were 58 methamphetamine overdose deaths in 2018; 77 in 2019; 121 in 2020 and 98 in 2021.

But Martinez, the homeless advocate, said it was hard to ignore the context of the deaths, such as the triple-digit temperatures homeless people are enduring on the streets, in addition to the coronavirus outbreak. ongoing methamphetamine.

“I don’t want people to put it off and say, ‘Oh, well, if they weren’t stoned’ or ‘It’s their fault,'” Martinez said.

“It is not the fault of the individual when our city and county does not have the proper resources to help people who are in direct sunlight and who are lost on our streets of Fresno in their addiction, which is a disease , ” she says.

Ahmad Bahrami, division director of the Fresno County Department of Behavioral Public Health, said the county has “low barrier to near zero barrier projects” like The Lodge, which engages unhoused people with behavioral disorders. substance use and mental health issues if not currently being addressed. Low-barrier shelters are those with few requirements for people seeking shelter, while zero-barrier shelters are those where no requirements (such as sobriety) are placed on guests.

“While we continue to increase awareness, efforts often depend on a participant’s willingness to engage in care,” he said.

But Bahrami said one of the challenges of methamphetamine addiction is effective treatment models. “Things like medication-assisted treatment (MAT) have been successful for opioid treatment, but there aren’t similar approaches for methamphetamine yet.”

The City of Fresno spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment. However, city-funded shelters have triage services to help residents access treatment for methamphetamine addiction, as well as other services.

“It’s everyone’s problem”

Martinez said she was delivering cold water to homeless people living on the streets during the heat wave. She said that while she can’t stop people from using drugs, she tries to remind them to stay cool.

“I tell them, ‘Please, please drink all that water, stay in the shade on the grass,'” she said. “Your body temperature will never drop when you’re sitting on concrete or dirt.”

She said she hopes to see more attention and resources from the city and county of Fresno for meth detox centers, as well as safe places, such as cooling centers, for the homeless. suffering from drug-related disorders.

Martinez said: “That’s our problem; it’s everybody’s problem.

How to get help

Fresno County residents seeking services for substance abuse disorders can call the 24/7 hotline at 800-654-3937 or visit; information about substance use disorder providers is also available in Spanish and Hmong.

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Melissa Montalvo covers labor and the economy in California’s Central Valley for The Fresno Bee/Fresnoland as a member of Report for America Corps. She is also a regular contributor to La Abeja, The Bee’s free weekly newsletter on Latino issues. She graduated from the University of Southern California with a BA in International Relations, minors in Business Law and French, and Renaissance Scholar and Global Scholar honors.