[Hpn] Study tracks homeless deaths - Santa Clara County CA USA fw

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Sun, 17 Sep 2000 09:14:38 -0700 (PDT)

FWD  CA USA - San Jose Mercury News - Friday, September 15, 2000


     Mercury News

For the first time, the coroner's office is tracking the number of homeless
people who have died in Santa Clara County, and one leading homeless
advocate described the figure so far this year as ``alarming.''

  At the request of a San Jose mayor's task force that studied the city's
homeless problem, the coroner's office has determined that 32 transients
have died this year, 22 in San Jose.

  ``I would say 32 people in nine months is pretty alarming,'' said the
Rev. Scott Wagers of the Community Homeless Alliance Ministry.

   But Diana Hunter, the administrative services manager for the coroner's
office, declined to make any characterization of the number of homeless

 ``I can't, because I have nothing to compare it to,'' she said.

   The coroner plans to keep monthly tallies of homeless deaths so the
office can track year-to-year rises and falls of those rates in the future.

   In comparison to San Francisco, however, the number of homeless deaths
in Santa Clara County is small, although the latter has about a million
more people. The San Francisco Department of Public Health reported 168
homeless deaths in 1999 -- on an annual basis, about four times higher than
Santa Clara County.

   Wagers blamed the deaths in Silicon Valley in part on the cost of
living, which has raised housing prices and rents to among the highest in
the nation. One-bedroom units in the valley now rent for an average of
$1,400, up 30 percent from last year.

   The lack of affordable housing has made it harder for those with low
wages to find shelter, he said.

  ``Homelessness is getting worse by all objective indicators,'' said
Wagers, who added that 19,000 people sought refuge at homeless shelters
last year.

   ``The numbers of people being turned away from shelters each day is 75.
All the shelters are full now, and as a result it is logical to conclude
that people are going to perish on the street unless we can do something
more dramatic.''

 The homeless problem is burgeoning, he said. In 1994, 16,300 people
reported an episode of being homeless -- that number has risen to roughly
20,000, according to Santa Clara County's 1999 survey of the homeless.

   The survey also found the fastest growing segment were families with
children -- 25 percent of the newly homeless in Silicon Valley in 1999 were
children under 18.

   Wagers said the task force on homelessness and housing has submitted its
report to Mayor Ron Gonzales. Among the recommendations:

*  Make vacant warehouses, buildings and churches open to the homeless.

*  Create a rent subsidy program.

*  Examine whether to construct new shelters.

*  Approve an ordinance that demands developers of residential complexes of
more than 100 units set aside 10 percent for affordable housing.

   The proposals are being analyzed for costs and effectiveness, said David
Vossbrink, the mayor's spokesman.

   In addition, city staffers also are contacting other organizations and
municipal agencies whose help would be needed to carry out the
recommendation, he said.


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