SAN JOSE, Calif. (Jesse Gary/KTVU) - City leaders in San Jose say there's been a spike in deaths among homeless residents. Officials aren't sure if the recent spike correlates to more homeless or if it's something else.
The names etched in stone at the Boccardo Reception Center in San Jose represent homeless residents who've died on the street.. And the list continues growing, but at a faster pace.
"In the past several years we've seen an increase in the number of people that are passing away while living unsheltered," said Ray Bramson, the city's acting director for the housing department.
San Jose city officials say on any given day or night, there are 4,000 homeless residents in San Jose, with three-quarters having no shelter at all.
The number of homeless deaths spiked in the last two reporting years, from 86 in 2015 to 132 in 2016.
"This is not the only county that this is happening. it's also happening in L.A. [County] and Philadelphia [County], so there's other places in the United States where homeless deaths are on the rise," said Andrea Urton of HomeFirst Services of Santa Clara County.
She says while the cause behind the increase is unknown, there are working theories. One is that those who've passed have all battled substance abuse, particularly alcohol addiction. Thursday, the Santa Clara County district attorney, the county coroner and community partners established a task force to investigate the increases.
"We'll be meeting every quarter to talk about the number of deaths that have occurred and to review each case. to see if we can get a better understanding of what's occurring in our homeless community and why these deaths are spiking," said Urton.
As overnight temperatures drop into the low 40s and upper 30s, the city has four warming centers to care for anyone in need. But the centers are only activated when the winter chill sinks to 38 degrees or lower.
"We're working to make sure we can open up and activate these inclement weather centers whenever the need exists," said Bramson.
Permanent housing is the ultimate fix for this problem, but some philanthropists warn dollars alone won't prevent the most distressing fate facing many homeless residents..
"The money is important, but we also need to bring more housing ready communities so that even when we do have the money, our communities are actually willing to have these people who are our residents come and live next door to us," said Daniel Harris of the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation.
The Santa Clara County coroner will release the homeless death figures for 2017 on February 14 of next year, and we'll be able to see if this disturbing trend is holding or reversing. In the meantime and for the duration of winter, homeless advocates say those living on the streets or in parks like this one need blankets, warm socks, jackets and gloves. You can donate those items to the nearest shelter or charitable organization.