By Lauren Williams
7:46 PM PST, January 15, 2013
The dead bodies of two homeless people were discovered in separate Costa Mesa locations Tuesday, and city workers said they were 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.
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 at 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 Dumpster at about noon in the 100 block of East 17th Street.
Though the coroner's office did not release any identifying information, including ages, pending notification of the next of kin, Becks Heyhoe of the Churches Consortium, a homeless outreach program, identified Collins and Stehnach.
Collins hailed 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," 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 CEO Rick Francis said that 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.
"...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, he added, saying that the city would reevaluate whether to continue the program based on weather conditions.