A homeless man was found dead under stairs at the LanMart Building in late December, and while such deaths are uncommon in downtown Petaluma, the leader of Committee on the Shelterless says that the homeless population faces many health challenges.

"The death of this individual is tragic," said John Records, COTS' executive director. "We work very hard with people to help them put their lives together so that this sort of thing doesn't happen."

Periodically, deaths of homeless people are reported at local homeless encampments, but Records says that it is uncommon for homeless people to die on the streets of Petaluma.

"But sometimes, people on the streets have chemical dependencies, mental health issues or other problems, so they have compromised health to begin with. The health-care availability and the longevity of homeless people on the street are not good — generally, their life expectancy is 55," he said, adding that this may or may not be the case in Petaluma.

"In terms of preexisting conditions, homelessness aggravates unstable medical conditions," added Annie Nicol, a family practitioner at the Petaluma Health Center who runs COTS' health clinic. "Many homeless people also face many issues that affect their health, such as lack of transportation and insurance, alcohol and drug addictions and mental-health problems."

The man who recently died, Charles Earl Pollock, 52, was discovered in the LanMart Building by a PG&E employee who was reading meters on Dec. 23. Pollock apparently had entered through a side door that leads to an area where homeless people sometimes gather to escape the rain, and find shelter.

Police found alcohol bottles in the area, but the cause of Pollock's death was not established.

"There was no apparent sign of trauma," said Lt. Mike Cook of the Petaluma Police Department.

Records says that COTS has a proactive health program, and provided flu vaccines before the holidays.

"We had a lot of concerns about the flu, so we provided examinations and referrals to help people," he said.

COTS regularly provides many facilities and services that directly or indirectly boost the health of clients and other community residents.

The Mary Isaak Center offers transitional housing and transformative programs for homeless children and their families, emergency shelter and transformative programs for homeless adults without children in their care and on-site health and dental care clinics.

The health clinic, which is open 41⁄2 days per week, has been operating for the past six years and receives funding from St. Joseph Health System.

Besides the clinics, COTS also has many volunteer professionals who provide direct care or referral assistance and state-of-the-art pain management and trauma workshops to address the underlying causes of homelessness, such as physical injuries that have physically and emotionally devastated them.

Also, COTS' Petaluma Kitchen supplies nutritious meals each day to homeless and at-risk families and individuals; its Food Box Program distributes groceries, fresh milk, fruits and vegetables to very low-income families, seniors and individuals; and its Vida Nueva program provides supportive housing primarily for families with disabled heads of household.

COTS also a memorial garden to honor homeless people who have died.

"It is part of the healing process. Normally, we also have some sort of memorial service for them," Records said.

(Contact Dan Johnson at dan.johnson@arguscourier.com)