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Two homeless people found dead in O.C.

January 15, 2013 |  6:08 pm

The bodies of two homeless people were discovered in separate Costa Mesa locations Tuesday, and city workers said they are taking emergency measures to shield those most at risk from the cold.

There were no unusual circumstances surrounding the deaths, Costa Mesa police Lt. Bryan Glass said. It was unclear whether the cold temperatures, which dipped to 43 degrees Monday night, played a role in the deaths.

Though police and the coroner's office did not release the victims' names, service providers who work with the homeless identified them as Robert Collins and Rita Stehnach, both believed to be in their 50s. Autopsies will be performed, according the Orange County coroner's office.

A passerby discovered one of the bodies about 2 a.m. in the 500 block of West 19th Street, Glass said. The second was found near a dumpster about noon in the 100 block of East 17th Street by an employee who worked at a nearby boxing gym.

Becks Heyhoe of the Churches Consortium, a homeless outreach program, identified Collins and Stehnach.

Collins was from Boston and was known as "a bit of a character here in Costa Mesa" for the last 10 years, Heyhoe said. "His presence will be missed."

Stehnach was known to spend time on 17th Street, largely keeping to herself. Both had health issues that could have played a role in their deaths, Heyhoe said.

"These are people who had been in our community for over a decade — who lived on our streets," Heyhoe said, "and the city is moving in a good direction, but we still need services and we need housing for people who are highly vulnerable."

As cold temperatures were expected to continue overnight, Assistant City CEO Rick Francis said that police officers planned to check in on the homeless during their shifts by visiting the locations they frequent.

In addition, Francis said, the city planned to pay for overnight motel stays for those most in need.

"From my perspective, what matters is we've got people dying," Francis said. "If it's weather-related how do we respond to that?"

City CEO Tom Hatch authorized the temporary motel measure, Francis added, saying the city would reevaluate whether to continue the program based on weather conditions.


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