Bay Area officials are working to get the homeless into shelters after four people died this week in Santa Clara County due to hypothermia-related causes, the medical examiner’s office confirmed Friday.
Three of the deaths occurred at various homeless encampments in San Jose, according to officials, and a fourth victim was found dead in Saratoga inside an open garage.
The first hypothermia-related death happened on Nov. 28, according to Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Lt. David Lera. The other victims died during the “extreme weather” that has moved through the region since late Wednesday, he said.
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None of the names of the deceased have been released, though Lt. Lera did say all the victims were men in their 40s or 50s.
The county plans a limited activation of its emergency operation center, Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said at a Friday press conference. Cody said she’s trying to organize the county’s resources to better serve the community, especially between now and Tuesday, when more cold is expected.
“We want to try to get folks who don’t have a home into shelter, particularly this weekend,” Dr. Cody said.
The county is working to provide ponchos, blankets, socks and other cold-weather gear to homeless individuals who won’t accept shelter so they can “shelter themselves,” Dr. Cody said.
There are more than 7,600 homeless people in Santa Clara County, according to a recent nationwide census.
Freeze warnings expired Friday morning, but a winter weather advisory remains up through the weekend.
Overnight temperatures in most of Santa Clara County dipped below freezing for around 10 hours starting after 9 p.m. Thursday.
Temperatures were expected to stay above freezing Friday night into Saturday, except for in the hills, but precipitation could cause problems for those without any shelter. Below freezing temps are expected to return Saturday night.
On Monday, non-profit group EHC LifeBuilders started offering 275 shelter beds for the homeless during the cold weather season in Santa Clara County, which has one the fourth highest homeless population in the country, a spokeswoman said.
EHC LifeBuilders, based in San Jose, launched its annual Cold Weather Shelter Program with 50 beds in San Jose, 125 in Sunnyvale and 100 in Gilroy, according to Jenny Niklaus, the organization's chief executive.
"We only have about 1,000 beds on any given night in this whole community. There are 7,000 people outside," Nicklaus said. "So even if every bed was full, or above capacity, we're still gonna have people outside in this dangerous weather."
Friday night, they added 50 more beds to their homeless shelter in San Jose to accommodate more people during the cold snap. The EHC shelters in Gilroy and Sunnyvale also planned to add beds.
Earlier in the day, workers from a number of organizations sent teams out to homeless encampments in the San Jose area and handed out 1,000 blankets.
The shelter is also extending its hours. Saturday morning, instead of asking clients to leave at 6 a.m., they'll be asking them to leave at 8 a.m., when it's a little bit warmer.