Cold snap potentially dangerous for the unhoused in San Jose

Efforts are underway to keep the city’s chronically homeless warm in San Jose. One shelter had to turn people away after reaching capacity.

On a cold Monday at Roosevelt Park in San Jose, volunteers were passing out food and blankets.

“People were coming up to us as we were coming down with the cart so not surprised,” said Volunteer Vanessa Villareal. “It’s freezing.”

The warm supplies went fast to those who have nowhere to live. Villareal wanted to help in any way she could.

“I have gloves, blankets and I’m layered up,” said Villareal. “For them, I just want them to feel as comfortable as possible. It’s life and death for them.”

“Last night the temperatures plummeted,” said Scott Wagers of Cham Deliverance Ministries. “We tried to call our network, churches, people we know to try and get blankets together.”

Wagers is especially concerned about the city’s growing homeless population during a pandemic.

“It’s been particularly hard because COVID hit really hard,” said Wagers. “I've heard there's a lot of deaths not necessarily from COVID but because the unhoused population has been caught off.”

Wagers said he’s seen less volunteers visiting encampments and less food donations.

“I tell you my hand is freezing,” said Edwin Vasquez who is homeless. “I can’t move it.”

Vasquez is thankful for a blanket. He’d rather sleep in his tent than in a shelter worried about his belongings. Others are worried about COVID.

“We’ve seen a surge of folks coming into the shelter the last three days,” said Phil Mastrocola of Grace Baptist Church.

Grace Baptist Church in San Jose is typically a 65-bed shelter. It’s now reduced to 50 beds to meet social distancing requirements. Staff said it’s been tough turning people away.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Mastrocola. “We do have a few extra blankets. We were able to give blankets, warm food and water.”

Those they can accommodate have their temperatures checked and eat at their bedside.

Fernando Lopez, who is staying at the shelter, is thankful for a safe place to escape the cold.

“It’s warm and cozy,” said Lopez. “They provide everything such as showers, hygiene, food, a warm bed, and blanket and it’s a blessing to have this spot.”

The City of San Jose is using South Hall of the Convention Center as a temporary shelter for COVID-19. It will also be used during the cold season. The county plans to open its cold weather shelters in the coming days.