Santa Clara County homeless deaths dramatically on the rise

The number of homeless deaths in Santa Clara County has risen dramatically according to a County Coroner's report.

And now a number of agencies are coming together to form a new task force to figure out why.

At Saint James Park in downtown San Jose, safety is on the mind of those who live on the streets.

"We have a group that stays here -- safety in numbers," said Terry Hammer, who has lived on the streets for 2 years.

Hammer and his two friends pooled money together to stay in a hotel Thursday night.

"A lot of people opt to stay outside because the shelters are almost worse," said Betsy Henriques, who is also homeless. "I feel safer out here than I do inside which is sad."

Meanwhile at the same time two blocks away outside San Jose City Hall, police taped off a crime scene Friday after a homeless man was apparently stabbed in an attack.

While he is expected to survive, more people are dying on the streets.

According to a coroner's report, the number of homeless deaths in Santa Clara County has more than tripled in recent years from 50 in 2011 to 132 last year, which is a 164 percent increase.

"There's been a substantial increase. We know more men are dying than women. We know the increase tends to be with homeless folks over the age of 65 and older," said Andrea Urton, the CEO of HomeFirst. 

The CEO of HomeFirst, the county's largest provider of homelessness services, calls the numbers alarming.

She points out homeless murders in the county have also risen in the same time frame from two in 2011 to 10 last year.

"With any given night, we've got 7,398 folks on the streets or in shelters or places that are not habitable, so that to me is a crisis," said Urton. "And on top of that, more of these folks are dying."

Urton is part of the newly formed task force to further investigate the increase in homeless deaths which includes the coroner, the District Attorney's office, and the City of San Jose.

She does say an initial investigation by the coroner shows the increase in homeless deaths not related to weather or a larger homeless population but is related to alcohol and drug use.

The task force plans to meet quarterly, review every homeless death and look to see if there’s any correlation.