Unhoused man found dead outside Housing Matters Coral Street campus

The Housing Matters campus at Coral Street and Highway 9 in a 2021 file photo.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

The man, known as Blake by those close to him, was a day-services participant at Housing Matters. The official cause of death has not been determined.

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An unhoused man was found dead Wednesday near the Coral Street campus of Santa Cruz nonprofit Housing Matters early Wednesday morning.

The Santa Cruz Police Department received a report of the deceased person at 6:46 a.m., according to spokesperson Joyce Blaschke. At the time of publication, an official cause of death had not been determined.

“Despite valiant efforts to revive him by the Abbott SPI Security Team and Housing Matters staff, this person experiencing homelessness was unable to be revived,” Evyn Robles, director of campus and housing for Housing Matters, said in an email statement.

The death has hit those who knew him hard.

Shannon Vudmaska, who is also unhoused, knew the deceased man as Blake. She said he was in his 40s.

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The age of the deceased man tracks with data presented by by leaders of the county’s primary touchpoint for the unhoused, the Homeless Persons Health Project (HPHP), at a memorial service for members of the unhoused community who died in 2022:

  • The age of those dying in the county’s unhoused population hit a 15-year low: 49 years old, far lower than the overall average age of death in the county — 76.
  • The largest number of deaths by age range was among those aged 31-40.

“He was one of the kindest people out there, he was the kind of guy that would have given away his blankets and jacket if he thought someone needed them more” Vudmaska said of Blake. “He was the last person that should have died in the cold.”

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Vudmaska added that even though she had not known Blake for very long, they became close quickly.

“I saw and spoke to him daily for the last four months,” she said. “They call me Mama Shannon out here, so I have a certain level of respect that others might not have, and he always showed that.”

Despite the fact that no cause of death had been determined as of Wednesday afternoon, Vudmaska said she thinks people don’t take the cold weather seriously enough.

“A lot of people say it’s not possible to die of exposure in Santa Cruz, but it is,” she said, adding that Blake had been trying to get shelter at the Housing Matters facility.

Housing Matters Chief Impact Officer Mer Stafford said she didn’t know if the man was seeking shelter with the organization, but said he was a “beloved day-services participant,” meaning that he accessed showers, restrooms and mail services through the organization.

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