TimesOC: O.C. homeless die in record numbers

"Sign up for our TimesOC newsletter" and the L.A. Times logo over the Huntington Beach Pier at sunset.
TimesOC, a newsletter about Orange County, is published Wednesdays and Fridays.
(Los Angeles Times)

Good morning and welcome to the TimesOC newsletter.

It’s Friday, Dec. 24. I’m Ben Brazil, bringing you the latest roundup of Orange County news and events.

As we enter the holiday weekend, we should all think about the hundreds who died on the street this year of illness, drug overdoses, suicides, homicides and traffic accidents.

For the second year in a row, more homeless people have died in Orange County than any other year in its history. According to the Orange County coroner’s office, 384 unhoused passed away this year. Last year, there were 330 deaths.


The high death count shows how the last two years during the pandemic have been the hardest for Orange County’s homeless. In 2019, just over 200 homeless people died.

Yet, the homeless have not largely died from COVID-19. The culprit is a different kind of epidemic.

Many of the deaths on the coroner’s report were caused by drug overdoses, with more than 130 of them involving the powerful synthetic drug fentanyl. The number of fentanyl-related deaths in Orange County and the rest of the country has been on the rise in recent years. According to the Orange County Health Care Agency, 234 residents died from opioid overdoses in 2011, compared to 499 in 2020. Fentanyl is a huge contributor to the number of opioid deaths, accounting for 381 of the deaths last year.

According to the district attorney’s office, Orange County has experienced a 1,000% increase over the last five years in fentanyl deaths. Homeless populations are adversely impacted by the rise in use of the drug, according to the California Department of Health Care Services.

Volunteers placed 403 candles, each one symbolizing a homeless person who died in the streets of Orange County in 2021
A ceremony honoring the deceased homeless of Orange County was held at Christ Cathedral.
(Courtesy of Steven Georges, Diocese of Orange)

This week, the sixth annual Homeless Persons’ Interreligious Memorial Service was held at Christ Cathedral to honor those who have died.

Several representatives from local religious organizations spoke during the service, and the names of the deceased homeless were read aloud, wrote my colleague Sarah Mosqueda. A candle was also lit for each name.

“They are our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, friends and neighbors. In many ways this service will be the only commemoration of some peoples lives,” said the Very Rev. Christopher H. Smith, Episcopal Vicar and Rector of Christ Cathedral. “Let us become the voice for those that are not heard or seen, our brothers and sisters experiencing homelessness. With this memorial we say, their lives mattered and we mourn their deaths.”

Huntington Beach is enduring some drama with City Atty. Michael Gates.
Huntington Beach is enduring some drama with City Atty. Michael Gates.
(Scott Smeltzer/Daily Pilot )


The Fountain Valley City Council this week voted against a resolution that would have supported a ban on offshore oil drilling. Several Orange County cities have been considering similar resolutions in the wake of a catastrophic spill off the coast of Huntington Beach in October, wrote my colleague Andrew Turner. Mayor Patrick Harper, who voted against it, said that he wanted to take a more “cooperative approach” with the oil industry.

There’s drama in Huntington Beach. City Council members this week discussed the option of retaining legal counsel aside from City Atty. Michael Gates. Some of the council members have had a contentious relationship with Gates, who is elected to his position. However, Gates struck back with a letter stating that he may take legal action if the council moves forward with an effort to retain outside legal aid. In response, the council decided to continue the discussion to a later date.

The Laguna Beach Police Department will be adding two service dogs and a K9 vehicle after receiving more than $146,000 in donations. The additions come after the loss of Ranger, the department’s most recent service dog who died of cancer. “This is extraordinarily generous from really generous people in our community, so I want to thank them for that,” Laguna Beach Mayor Sue Kempf said.

Santa Ana is considering banning the sale of flavored tobacco products in an effort to protect younger residents from harmful health effects. While City Council members are generally in support of the ban, a few want to ensure that the ordinance does not inadvertently discriminate against communities that use flavored tobacco products as part of their cultural traditions, such as hookah.

A Garden Grove man has been charged with a hate crime for allegedly attacking a 71-year-old clerk at a Huntington Beach liquor store. Prosecutors allege that Ralph Stanford Davis III made derogatory statements about the clerk’s nationality before punching him in the face. He also allegedly spat at and punched the vehicle of another customer.

Server Suzanne Miller holds the most popular dish at Domenico's, the ground pepperoni pizza in the new lakeside patio.
(Don Leach/Daily Pilot)


Domenico Spano is said to have opened one of the first pizza joints in California almost six decades ago. Now, a fresh take on his original restaurant is opening in Mission Viejo. The new location, Domenico’s on the Lake, will feature the restaurant’s signature pizzas, including the favorite ground pepperoni pizza. “People ask if we are a New York-style pizza or a Chicago-style pizza,” said Domenico’s co-owner, Mike Rhodes. “We always say we are Domenico’s style, because I don’t know anyone else that makes pizza the way we do.”

For those traveling out of John Wayne Airport for the holidays this weekend, be sure to stop by the “Troupes + Tribes” exhibition, which features the photographs of Wednesday Aja. Aja’s work showcases circus life, a love for which she kindled while photographing circuses in France. My colleague Gabriel San Román wrote this week about the Dana Point photographer’s first hometown exhibit.

Mater Dei Monarchs head coach Bruce Rollinson is at the center of a hazing scandal at the school.
(Jerome Miron)


In response to an intensive scrutiny surrounding a violent hazing scandal, employees, parents, students and the diocese surrounding Mater Dei have remained largely silent. Reporters Hannah Fry, Connor Sheets and Laura Nelson delved into the scandal and the football powerhouse’s response, or lack thereof, in a scathing article this week.

Here’s a roundup of high school sports scores from coastal Orange County cities. This week, Corona del Mar girls’ basketball picked up a win in the Nike Tournament of Champions and Ocean View won the fifth of its last six games.

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