SAN JOSE, Calif. - Each year homeless advocates in San Jose remember the hundreds of people who die while living on the streets there. Today also marks two years since two unhoused people were stabbed to death while sheltering in a San Jose church.
What happened at Grace Baptist Church back in 2020 shocked the entire community, but advocates say it’s just another example of how unsafe it can be for people who don’t have permanent housing.
"For a lot of unhoused people, this is the only tombstone they’re going to get," said Shaunn Cartwright, Co-founder of the Unhoused Response Group.
For the last five years, the Unhoused Response Group or URG, has held a ceremony displaying these Styrofoam tombstones for the approximate 250 people who die each year on the streets of San Jose.
"This is the only service that people are ever going to have for unhoused people, and it’s just so hard," Cartwright said.
Shaunn Cartwright founded URG and says the ceremony honors the lives of people often forgotten about and is a stark reminder to local leaders of the housing crisis. She says the stabbing deaths of Kimberly Fial and John Paulson at Grace Baptist Church in 2020 are symptomatic of a bigger problem.
"How many people die, while it takes you from saying you’re going to build a building, to ground-breaking, to actually cutting the ribbon on the day that it opens? How many people die? So on average, that’s 250 people every year," Cartwright said.
Grace Baptist Church released a statement Tuesday, remembering both Fial and Paulson, saying:
"Today we remember our dear friends Kimberly Fial and John Paulson who left us two years ago. We continue to miss their humor, caring hearts and bright smiles." – Grace Baptist Church
Fernando Jesus Lopez, who was also unhoused and staying at Grace Baptist Church that night, was charged with two counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder for stabbing three other people. Just weeks before the stabbings, Lopez spoke to KTVU about finding shelter on a cold night.
"It's warm, cozy, they provide everything such as showers, hygiene, food, a warm bed and blanket, and it's a blessing to have this spot," Lopez said in 2020.
It’s still unclear why Lopez stabbed five people at the church that night, but Cartwright says those who knew him believed drugs may have been a factor.
The tombstones will be displayed at the Santa Clara County Building. The ceremony starts at noon on December 21st which is also the longest night of the year.