County’s Homeless Death Toll Increases 164 Percent from 2011

Donald Bruce Tabler died in spring of last year at the age of 65, fatally weakened by chronic smoking, drinking and squalor. On March 21, 2016, the Army veteran and father of three from Campbell became part of Silicon Valley’s soaring homeless death toll.

According to a report released last week, the number of men and women dying on the streets of Santa Clara County rose by 164 percent from 50 in 2011 to 132 last year. Like Tabler, the overwhelming majority of them were white and male. But the death count for un-housed elderly people, also like Tabler, saw a 340 percent increase.

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Source: Santa Clara County

The troubling rise in homeless deaths reflects a national trend as the unsheltered population continues to grow and age. Yet the 13 percent increase in the South Bay’s homeless population these past two years fails to account for the rising death rate.

Natural deaths and accidents, including drug and alcohol overdoses, caused most of the county’s homeless deaths. More than a third died in a medical setting and about a fifth in an outdoor camp or makeshift shelter. The number of un-housed veterans dying fell from nine in 2015 to three last year—possibly because of a regional push to find shelter for that segment of the homeless population.

While the death review—available here and here—focuses on trends and statistics, San Jose Inside obtained records containing the names and ages of the homeless decedents that provided the basis for the county’s research.

Click here for the list from 2016 and here for names from the four years prior.

According to those records, the youngest fatalities last year were two infants: two-day-old Mary Barajas and 22-day-old Emanuel Hurtado. The eldest were in their 70s—well over the typical lifespan for someone living on the streets.

Some of the names show up in obituaries or news reports. There’s Paul Iwanga, a 56-year-old father of three, and 58-year-old Dumont Moore, a retired Air Force electrician with dozens of misdemeanor convictions on his record.

Melanie Wright.

Melanie Wright.

There’s Melanie Roberta Wright, a 38-year-old Wailaki-Nomlaki Native American who died Feb. 24, 2016, of a drug overdose on the day she got her $1,300 tax refund check. Her father—Round Valley Indian Reservation President Kenneth George Wright, who already lost a son to suicide—took his own life a few months later on Father’s Day.

“He lost his son to suicide, then his daughter to the streets,” said Russ Flores, Melanie’s older brother. “He was ready to join them when I spoke with him at her funeral.”

Flores said his sister was staying in a van with a male friend at the time of her death, which the county classified as an overdose from heroin, methamphetamine and PCP.

“She was living day to day and she had to depend on who was in front of her,” Flores said. “Unfortunately for my sister, the people who were in front of here weren’t good company. I regret not being able to help her.”

Though the county report and attendant data offer unprecedented detail about homeless deaths in this county, they fall short of explaining why so many more people are dying.

The county’s Medical Examiner-Coroner Dr. Michelle Jorden said she doesn’t quite know what's causing the surge in homeless deaths, but hopes that the report will help other people find some answers.

Andy Gutierrez, a deputy public defender who lobbied for the death review after seeing countless homeless clients cycle in and out of jail without adequate medical care, said curbing homeless fatalities requires expanding access to drug and alcohol treatment.

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Year to year, he noted, about 40 percent of the region’s homeless deaths stemmed from drugs, alcohol or related conditions. The population suffers from other serious chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, he said, but the drugs and alcohol make it difficult for outreach workers and case managers to place them in stable housing.

“Unless we break that cycle of chronic alcohol and drug use,” he said, “we cannot even begin on our other supportive measures.”

Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

13 Comments

  1. It seems both the homeless population AND the the homeless death toll rise in direct proportion to government efforts to “help”.
    Never underestimate the power of unintended consequences.

    • A curious malady among people who hate government is that they view every problem in the human condition as arising from the government. In your case the condition is apparently untreatable, as you are now manufacturing imaginary data involving “government efforts to help.”

      • Sorry ’71. I know how lost many of you feel without your lengthy reports, copious statistics, bar graphs, pie charts, opinions from “experts”, etc. But don’t you ever just tune all that noise out, open your eyes and ears and think your own thoughts?
        But let’s do it your way. Make yourself a little XY graph. Let the vertical axis represent the seriousness of the “homeless problem” on a scale of 1 to 10. (You can assess the ‘seriousness” by how much time and effort our City Council spends talking about iy) Let the horizontal axis represent the number of Tiny Homes. Now go ahead and make a dot on the graph and put today’s date on it. Now keep that graph on your coffee table next to your bong so you always know right where to find it, and periodically plot the seriousness level as a function of the number of Tiny Homes. Keep filling out this graph over the course of the next several decades and report back to me if it shows that the “homeless problem” declines the more Tiny Homes we build. You’ll find that it doesn’t. It’ll then dawn on you how much time, money, and effort we’ve wasted and how much nicer, more liveable, and in a better position to help those who need it we would be if we had only used our resources more wisely. Then, finally, you will know that there’s no substitute for common sense.

  2. It is absolutely obscene that a city, county and state that sees fit to waste billions of dollars on things like high speed rail to no where, outrageous public pensions to government employees and countless insane expenditures to the benefit of no one but special interests can’t find the resolve and funds to address this problem.

    • I’m not convinced the problem is solvable by merely throwing money at it. There are surely a lot of homeless who are unable to live in assisted housing because of mental problems or addiction problems, and we as a society quit helping them back in the 1980’s when Ronald Reagan put all the crazies and sickos out on the street. Until we figure out a long-term solution that is more than just handing out free food and free needles, we’re going to be stuck with this plague.

      • > and we as a society quit helping them back in the 1980’s when Ronald Reagan put all the crazies and sickos out on the street.

        FAKE NEWS! FAKE NEWS! FAKE NEWS!

        It has been documented on SJI that emptying out the mental hospitals was Pat Brown’s policy which went into effect when Ronald Reagan took office.

  3. > Donald Bruce Tabler died in spring of last year at the age of 65, fatally weakened by chronic smoking, drinking and squalor. On March 21, 2016, the Army veteran and father of three from Campbell became part of Silicon Valley’s soaring homeless death toll.

    Quiz:

    Donald Bruce Taber died of:

    A. chronic smoking
    B. alcoholism
    C. squalor
    D. homelessness
    E. second hand smoke
    F. rising sea levels
    G. severe weather caused by global warming.

    The headline says: “County’s Homeless Death Toll Increases 164 Percent from 2011″, so the answer must be homelessness. Otherwise, why would we be reading this article.

    I wonder what Donald Bruce Tabler’s official death certificate says?

    • Could you possibly think that someone who was “fatally weakened by chronic smoking, drinking and squalor” was not killed by homelessness? Perhaps in your happy world of unicorns and rainbows, people who are homeless are just as healthy and robust as the rest of us? And maybe none of them actually want or need any help, too!

      • If people died from homelessness, humanity would have died out hundreds of thousands of years ago.

  4. Obviously this is the result of years of institutionalized anti white racialism and heterophobic hate on the part of city county and state. I think we should tear down some statues, carry signs, throw a tantrum and chant something no one can understand !

    • If you’re on any meds, Empty Gun, you may want to make sure you didn’t miss today’s dose–you seem to be unable to read one article without thinking you’re reading about another. And you wouldn’t want to lose control of your life and end up on the street, because then you’ll be dependent upon a class of people you clearly hold in the lowest possible regard.

  5. If the dope addicts; winos; crazies and bums are dying from drug overdoses, chronic alcoholism, suicide and natural causes, at least someone is doing something to reduce the number of the homeless in the county.

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