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Costa Mesa to help homeless in cold after two bodies found

January 16, 2013 |  9:51 am

This post has been corrected. See note at bottom for details.

City officials in Costa Mesa say they will take emergency measures to protect homeless people at risk from cold temperatures after two bodies were found this week at separate locations.

There were no unusual circumstances surrounding the deaths, said Costa Mesa Police Lt. Bryan Glass. The bodies were discovered Tuesday, the Daily Pilot reported.

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. It was unclear whether cold temperatures, which dipped to 43 degrees Monday night, had something to do with the deaths.

Autopsies will be performed, according the Orange County coroner's office.

A passerby discovered Collins' body about 2 a.m. in the 500 block of West 19th Street, Glass said. An employee from a nearby boxing gym found Stehnach's body near a trash container about noon in the 100 block of East 17th Street.

Collins was from Boston and was known as "a bit of a character here in Costa Mesa" for the last 10 years, said Becks Heyhoe of the Churches Consortium, a homeless outreach program. 

"His presence will be missed," Heyhoe said.

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 chief executive Rick Francis said police planned to check in on the homeless during their shifts by visiting the locations they frequent.

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

[For the record, 11:50 a.m. Jan. 16: An earlier version of this post omitted Becks Heyhoe's first name.]

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-- Lauren Williams, Times Community News

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