San Jose homeless handed lifesaving tools
Homeless resident Jasmine Velasquez takes Narcan, food and other resources back to her camp for herself and neighbors. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    Fire extinguishers, Narcan and headlamps aren’t gifts that typically elicit a giddy reaction, but the cruel reality of living on the streets of San Jose can change that.

    For homeless residents in Santa Clara County, encampment fires, drug overdoses and collisions between people and vehicles are part of life, and with that comes death. Homeless deaths have increased over the last decade, and advocates want to break the trend.

    Shaunn Cartwright, co-founder of the Unhoused Response Group, and Kelana Kelly L’Amora, founder of nonprofit Hello Angels Foundation, are distributing a number of crucial resources to help bring down the numbers. Headlamps, fire extinguishers and opioid overdose treatments like Narcan are part of the weekly drop-off list.

    The advocates, who call themselves the Death Prevention Program, provide the items to combat the causes of death that disproportionately impact homeless residents. Headlamps to help avoid pedestrian traffic fatalities, Narcan for drug overdoses and fire extinguishers to fight camp blazes. Nonprofit Destination: Home is providing the resources.

    “The (fire extinguishers) we are handing out are crucial to preventing what could be dangerous to not only the unhoused at the encampments, but also close-by neighbors,” L’Amora told San José Spotlight.

    Blessing Davis, who was previously homeless, hands Narcan to unhoused resident Jasmine Velasquez. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    Santa Clara County saw 50 homeless deaths in 2011 and 256 deaths in 2021. This year its on track to beat it with 179 homeless deaths to date. Drug addiction plays a significant part in the death toll—with nearly 60 deaths attributed to overdoses this year so far.

    “This is really good,” said homeless resident Jasmine Velasquez while holding Narcan and a fire extinguisher. “Fentynal is really out there. I’ve had to like, bring back a couple of people in the last month.”

    Velasquez, who is eight months pregnant, said drugs have claimed the lives of many around her. It’s hard to cope with and combat the deaths, but she said having Narcan will help.

    Fire extinguishers are also an essential tool at homeless encampments. The camps have seen propane explosions and other fire-related dangers. For some unhoused residents, it’s their primary concern.

    “It is lifesaving. There’s always a fire around here,” Velasquez told San José Spotlight. “When I first moved out here, I literally was gone for not even five minutes and I come back and my camp was (burned) to the floor.”

    In addition to homelessness in San Jose growing 11%, from 6,097 individuals in 2019 to 6,739 in 2021, the number of traffic-related fatalities are also rising with 52 to date. The majority of the deaths are homeless residents, according to data analyzed by San José Spotlight.

    “Unhoused people are getting hit all the time. Anytime you hear about a vehicular homicide that’s late at night, you can almost always assume that it was an unhoused person,” Cartwright said. “There are certain intersections that you just know it’s one of our folks.”

    Monterey Road and Foxworthy Avenue are streets Cartwright points to. Those streets are some of the most dangerous streets in San Jose, according to city data.

    L’Amora and Cartwright are handing out the tools now because they anticipate more people will die as the temperature drops. In September, 14 people died—some deaths the result of heat that reached 109 degrees. According to Santa Clara County data, at least one homeless person died a day between Sept. 5 and Sept. 9.

    In the last three months, homeless advocates said they have seen a death nearly every day of the month.

    “We saw an average 25 people die per month in the winter,” Cartwright said. “There are more people homeless, but services haven’t changed. So I can’t expect it to be any better this year.”

    Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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