A man died at Long Beach’s winter homeless shelter Monday night, leaving some residents concerned about safety at the facility and whether drugs intended to reverse the effects of opioid overdoses were readily available.
Paramedics were called to the shelter at the old Community Hospital campus around 10 p.m. and found the man—who appeared to be in his 30s—already in cardiac arrest, according to the Long Beach Fire Department.
Fire Department personnel determined the man was dead, and coroner’s officials later took possession of his body. They haven’t yet publicly identified the man or officially determined his cause of death, but officials suspect it was an overdose, according to Jennifer Rice Epstein, spokesperson for Long Beach’s Department of Health and Human Services
“Our hearts go out to the family of the deceased,” she said.
A representative for the nonprofit that runs the winter shelter, First to Serve, said she could not discuss details of the man’s death.
According to two residents at the shelter, the deceased man spent most of his time in his room where he was known to use opioids.
Both residents who spoke with the Long Beach Post asked not to be identified for fear of being kicked out of the shelter.
One of them said he heard the deceased man’s roommate yelling for help and saw shelter staff call for paramedics. He said he did not see staff give the man any Narcan, a drug they’re required to have on hand because of its ability to reverse opioid overdoses.
“They don’t even have Narcan,” the resident said. “When we give them Narcan, they throw it away.”
Bianca Martinez, the First to Serve representative, said her staff does have access to Narcan but declined to say if it was used in this case.
Providers like First to Serve are not allowed to turn people away from winter shelters solely because of substance use or addiction concerns, according to LAHSA’s rules, something that’s intended to lower the barrier to entry. In light of that, LAHSA distributes Narcan to shelter sites, including the one in Long Beach, which currently has 30 boxes of it, according to LAHSA spokesperson Christopher Yee.
LAHSA also requires proof that all shelter staff have been trained to use Narcan. When asked if First to Serve had provided that documentation, Yee said, “First to Serve keeps track of staff that have been trained to use Narcan, and it works to ensure that at least one person who has been trained is staffed per shift.”
One of the winter shelter residents who spoke with the Post said the experience Monday night left him shaken and wondering if he’s safe.
“It pretty much made me feel not as secure as I felt at first,” he said.
After arriving in Long Beach a few months ago, the man and his family were living in a park when crews came to clear them out. The man said he and his family were told they could either leave and have their belongings thrown out or head to the winter shelter where they could get three meals a day and respite from the cold.
“They said it would be safe, and to me,” he said, “this don’t seem like nothing safe.”
Residents reported there have been other overdoses at the shelter this year, but the victims were revived in those cases.
The city’s Homelessness Services Bureau could not immediately provide information about whether anyone has died at other winter shelter sites in prior years.