Homeless who died in 2015 memorialized

The names of 61 homeless people who died in Santa Clara County over the past year were read aloud during a memorial service in San Jose Thursdauy.

Dozens of people attended the annual memorial, which was organized by HomeFirst Services of Santa Clara County at its Boccardo Reception Center.

The number of deaths was nearly double last year’s total of 33, but the reason for the increase remains, HomeFirst CEO Andrea Urton said.

The Santa Clara County medical examiner’s office provides the tally, which runs from Nov. 15, 2014 to Nov. 15 of this year, according to Urton.

The 61 people were an average of 56 years old, which is nine years older than the national average life expectancy for a homeless person, Urton said.

“These people have been living on borrowed time and we need to do everything we can to get them the resources and the housing that they need,” she said.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, Supervisor Joe Simitian and Supervisor Mike Wasserman were among the city and county officials who attended the event and read the 61 names next to a table of candles in the shape of a heart and two hope signs.

“Remembering the lives keeps the issue in front of the public,” Wasserman said.

The 61 people who died were all sons, daughters, parents, or siblings who weren’t able to receive family support and ended up on the streets, he said.

Wasserman said he and Liccardo are honorary co-chairs at Destination: Home working at the county and city levels to help bring funding and awareness to homelessness.

On Tuesday, the City Council unanimously approved assistance for the homeless through the opening of overnight warming centers and a pilot temporary shelter program in partnership with places of worship during the winter months.

The 2015 homeless count taken in late January showed there were 6,556 homeless people in the county, which is a decrease of about 1,100 people compared to the year before, according to Wasserman.

Santa Clara County’s Housing Task Force has developed a plan to set aside $26 million to address homelessness, Wasserman said.

The task force has recommended the money be used for services including rapid rehousing programs, emergency shelter and transitional housing.

Wasserman emphasized the need for permanent supportive housing, which can be made through partnerships with cities, nonprofits and the private sector.

The memorial holds a personal meaning for Destination: Home executive director Jennifer Loving, who said her friend Bob is one of the first names listed on HomeFirst’s memorial garden for the homeless.

Bob’s death and the passing of others during the year he died helped propel formation of the memorial, which has been held for more than 15 years, Loving said.

“Honoring those who died outside in our streets is a stark reminder of all we have left to do,” Loving said.

“Let’s be mindful of what we’ve accomplished together while not allowing it to comfort us,” Loving said.