SAN JOSE, Calif. - In a somber memorial in San Jose on Tuesday, officials commemorated the passing of over 200 unhoused residents in 2023.
Beneath rainy skies, a memorial table adorned with 201 burning candles was set up under a tent, representing each unhoused person who had died.
"Today we’re gathering to remember and honor the lives of 201 people," said Mayor Matt Mahan.
Elected officials and care providers joined him in expressing the desire to dignify and remember each unhoused person who had passed away in the past year, ranging from the youngest at 20 years old to the oldest at 86.
"They had dreams, aspirations, and unique stories that deserve to be cherished and told," said Home First CEO Andrea Urton.
Maggie Crowder, the street services director of Home First, recounted saving Jonathan Paz, an unhoused resident living near a creek, from flooding in January. Though she assisted him in finding interim housing, Paz died weeks before reaching the goal of securing permanent housing.
"It was mainly exposure. There was no pre-existing condition or anything that we were aware of," she explained. "He was funny and helping and was always there engaging with the staff. And he was motivated to transition into housing."
The somber outcome was contrasted with success stories of preventing others from a similar fate. According to the mayor's office, the number of unhoused residents who died has decreased by 18% year-to-date.
Officials attributed this decline to policy successes, including increased housing construction and expanded services for unhoused residents. Advocates, however, stressed the need for more assistance.
"Sometimes we can’t do it ourselves. We have to create a movement. And not one person can do it. It takes everybody to get involved," said Jackie Beloney, a 70-year-old unhoused resident who moved off the streets and into a shelter.
Officials acknowledged the community's collective loss with the passing of 201 unhoused residents during the year.
"Let’s remember their resilience, courage, and enduring spirit within each of them," said Urton.
Jesse Gary is a reporter based in the station's South Bay bureau. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter), @JesseKTVU and on Instagram, @jessegontv.