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Gun violence & homelessness: 2 intersecting epidemics

The death of unhoused woman Melinda Davis in Sunday’s shooting highlighted what homeless advocates have long known: there’s tie between violence and homelessness.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Homeless advocates say there’s a crossing of two epidemics: homelessness and gun violence.

Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, has been working to end homelessness for the better part of four decades.

"I just don't think the general population has the faintest idea how violent (homelessness) is,” Erlenbusch said. “And we're not talking homeless-on-homeless; we're talking about other segments of the population who prey on vulnerable people."

One of the six people killed in Sunday’s shooting in the K Street corridor of downtown Sacramento was Melinda Davis, who was part of the local unhoused community. Erlenbusch said she’d been living in that area around K Street off and on for about 15 years.

RELATED: Remembering Melinda Davis: Sacramento shooting victim was unhoused

"To be shot while she's – quote unquote – 'at home' makes it even more disturbing,” he said.

The Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness compiles a yearly report on the causes of death within Sacramento County's unhoused community. They show that, consistently, violence of all kinds accounts for about a third of those deaths, or several dozen per year.

“Very violent out on the streets: gunshots, stabbings, some hangings,” Erlenbusch said. “Some of the hangings are murders and some are suicides - a lot of blunt force head injuries.”

Within these injury-related deaths lies a consistent story about gun violence. In recent years, the reports show, gun violence has killed at least one and as many as three unhoused people annually here in Sacramento County.

Credit: ABC10
Source: Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness

Asked what makes unhoused people so much more susceptible to violence, Erlenbusch said, “They're easy targets, especially if you're disabled in the least, if you're a senior and especially if you're a woman. I mean, the odds of being sexually abused as a woman (experiencing homelessness) are almost 100%.”

Homeless advocates said the top two causes of death within the unhoused community are substance abuse/overdose and violence.

“The average age of death of homeless men is 50 years old, and for women, it's about 47. So, on average, (homelessness) takes about 25 years off a person's life,” Erlenbusch said.

So what about possible solutions?

"Housing, housing and more housing. And in Melinda's case, housing with services,” Erlenbusch said. “What would have kept her alive is permanent housing with services being provided by the county."

RELATED: Audit finds state could do more to speed up affordable housing for state-owned property

At a vigil Monday evening for the six killed and 12 injured, several people held signs remembering Melinda Davis.

"If she had a home, she wouldn't have died,” said vigil participant Monica Madrid.

RELATED: 'He was a great man' | Remembering Sergio Harris who was killed in Sacramento's mass shooting

Ronald Swanson said Davis was a friend.

“She was very delightful,” he said. "It's a shame just to shoot people for no apparent reason."

A memorial for Melinda Davis is set up in the area of 10th and J streets, near where she lived and died.


Photographer remembers 57-year-old Melinda Davis after Sacramento mass shooting

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