California's first known COVID-19 homeless death

Santa Clara County officials confirm the first-known death of a homeless resident attributed to COVID-19, the novel coronavirus. The revelation is giving new urgency to efforts to protect a group of people who have few resources to fight the pandemic.

“The coronavirus is in these camps and I knew that was gonna happen,” said homeless advocate Pastor Scott Wagers, of CHAM Deliverance Ministry.

Never has his so-called “Mercymobile” – a mobile home loaded with

supplies for the homeless– been more appropriately named. Wednesday, he and other advocates handed out supplies in San Jose’s Roosevelt Park, and spread the word about the new disease. This virus, the cause of a global pandemic, Monday claimed the life of one homeless man in San Jose.

“That has to be the most  vulnerable population. And so, ah, if they don’t act now. They’re going to regret it later,” said Wagers.

In an emailed statement to KTVU, Santa Clara County Health officials said in part their department “…Is actively working to ensure the health of the homeless population as transmission of the novel Coronavirus continues.”

“What worries us most of course is all the congregant settings in which homeless are either in encampments or shelters. And so it’s critical for us to disperse them,” said Mayor Sam Liccardo, (D) San Jose.

He said city, county, and state officials are looking to move some homeless residents into vacant hotels. Or accelerate the production and placement of tiny homes.

“We really are focusing on, as much as we can, doing everything that we can to create more opportunities for people to separate,” said Cindy Chavez, president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.

On Wednesday California Governor Gavin Newsom announced $150 million in emergency funding to help protect the homeless population from COVID-19.

Back in Roosevelt Park, before that announcment was made, Pastor Wagers said he feared political rhetoric will not lead to urgent action, leaving the most vulnerable, more vulnerable than ever.

“It’s a disaster waiting to happen if they don’t do something now. I mean right now,” said Wagers.

San Jose housing representatives said the Valley Homeless Healthcare Program hopes to begin doing assessments of homeless residents later this week. Based on those assessments, homeless residents can get referrals to move into hotels, motels, and tiny homes. But a timeframe for movement is still unclear.