By Macy Jenkins

SACRAMENTO COUNTY (CBS13) – Sacramento County has seen a drastic increase in the number of homeless deaths from 2016 to 2017. One homeless person dies every three days.

“It’s a sad story and we’re committed to changing that,” said Janna Haynes, Communication and Media Officer for Sacramento County Homeless Initiatives. “We’re always going to have a long way to go because we’re committed to getting every person served, every person serviced.”

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The latest death happened Monday afternoon near Richards Boulevard. Sacramento Police say they found the body of a homeless man inside of his car on North 5th Street. He died from natural causes.

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It’s an invisible problem in one of our most visible communities. According to the Sacramento County Coroner’s office, in 2016, 78 homeless people died within the county. But in 2017, 124 people died: an increase of more than 150%.

“It’s a little alarming cause you’d wanna know what’s causing that stuff,” said Ricardo Johnson.

“I would say the majority of the deaths are attributed to drug and alcohol abuse,” Haynes told CBS13.

But she admits it’s hard to pinpoint. And she says it’s important to note: the homeless population in the county has gone up by 1,000 people in the last two years.

“These tragic deaths show why it’s so important to continue our effort to address the crisis of homelessness on our streets,” said Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

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So what’s the solution?

“Shelter is very important, but we want to address the reason that people become homeless and permanently change their life,” Haynes said.

Thanks to recent efforts, it’s now easier for families to register for emergency shelter in the county, she says. Additionally, the county is identifying the top 250 users of county services and then figuring out how to get them off the streets.

“These programs are brand-new,” Haynes said. They’re getting off their feet and we’re very optimistic.”

“Since I took office, we have launched our Whole Person Care program and our triage shelter in north Sacramento,” Steinberg said, regarding efforts from the city of Sacramento to end homelessness. “We have moved more than 400 people into shelter and put them on a path to stabilizing their lives.”

They’re efforts Ricardo Johnson calls a lifeline for many in need.

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“I don’t think people wake up one day and just decide I don’t want anything out of life,” he told CBS13. “Life sometimes just throws us pitches that we can’t necessarily hit. But we all just try to stay in the game.”

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The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors has committed $44 million over the course of three years to spend on mental health services for the homeless.