A 49-year-old homeless man was found dead behind the old post office on South Auburn Street in Grass Valley Wednesday morning, possibly due to alcohol.
“He is somebody that we’ve known to be homeless,” said Cindy Maple, executive director of Hospitality House, the area’s leading shelter and services provider. “We have had recent interactions with him.”
The man’s identity has not
yet been released, pending notification of next of kin, authorities said.
Because the man was covered in blankets and bottles were found near his body, it is presumed that the man died of alcohol-related issues and not by exposure, said Rich Fevinger, Nevada County coroner.
“He was found in an open stairwell with some alcohol bottles in and around the area,” Fevinger said. “He was well clothed and had blankets on him and a covering on the floor, so I don’t think exposure was an issue, but then again we are still waiting on the autopsy report.”
Records so far indicate that the man is originally from Southern California and moved here in 2004, said Nevada County Sheriff’s Lt. Paul Schmidt.
The man had a medical history with alcohol issues and there was no trace of a campfire at the scene, ruling out the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning, Fevinger said.
At least four other homeless men have been found dead in the past two years, Maple said, including brothers Ricky and Tim Thomas, who died two months apart in the same type of mobile wooden structure called a microshelter. William “Billy” Kelly, a descendent of the last Maidu chief, and veteran Mark Rye also died outdoors in recent years.
“It’s highly unusual because there had been several years where we didn’t hear of anyone dying in the (homeless) camps,” Maple said.
The recent increase in deaths among the homeless population can largely be attributed to alcohol and freezing temperatures, Maple said.
“Alcohol reduces the body temperature, so somebody not drinking would stand a better chance than someone who had been drinking in freezing temperatures,” she said.
Hospitality House has seen a sharp jump in the numbers of people seeking its services, Maple said.
“Probably since October, we’ve been dealing with major capacity issues,” she said. “At one point, we had probably 67 people and normal capacity is around 40.”
Hospitality House also has seen more families enter the homeless shelter at one time than ever.
“At one point, there were 11 children at once,” Maple said. “And some of the families are not just single-parent families but also two-parent families.”
The holidays are a difficult time for many people, which can cause increased alcohol consumption, according to Grass Valley Police Capt. Rex Marks,
“This is a tough time for everybody, and the holidays bring out those difficulties and emotional instability, so it’s just important for people to seek professional help when they start to feel that way and not let those feelings overwhelm them,” he said.
Grass Valley police see more mental health issues in general around the holidays, Marks said.
“It’s typical of the holidays, but people often don’t know they can turn to services,” he said. “It’s for anybody who needs it.”
Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker contributed to this report. To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4230.