Kelly Tasker, a grandmother at the age of 44, battled homelessness for nearly a decade.
Through the help of the Compassion Center in Gilroy, Tasker found her first permanent apartment that would have given her a chance to get help with her chronic illness and lift her partner off the streets.
But for Tasker, along with 249 others who lived on the streets of Silicon Valley, help and assistance came too late. Tasker died in October—days away from moving into her apartment and escaping homelessness for good, said Francesca Paist, a case manager at the Compassion Center.
“Kelly was a light,” Paist said in front of a crowd of more than 20 people and 250 tombstones created to honor unhoused residents whose lives were cut short because of homelessness. “I just can’t believe she died at 44. It’s unacceptable.”
Out of 250 lives lost on the streets this past year, 145 were seniors. More than half of those who died were people of color. Three babies also lost their lives. Thirteen people died by suicide, event organizer and homeless advocate Shaunn Cartwright told San José Spotlight.
Many unhoused residents are beaten down, especially with the pandemic raging on and promises of new housing yet to be fulfilled, Cartwright said. The city’s decision to start sweeping camps again this year has only pushed more people to their wits end.
“These sweeps are killing people,” she said.
Residents, advocates and lawmakers were somber as members of the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council shared prayers for the lives cut short.
“It breaks my heart,” Jake Cooper, who has been unhoused for the last 20 years, told San José Spotlight. “I don’t know what we can do to fix the problem.”
Santa Clara County Supervisor Otto Lee said it’s clear the region has more work to do and the county is trying to build new housing as fast as possible.
“But the reality is the number of deaths is still increasing,” Lee told San José Spotlight. “We’re in Santa Clara County, in Silicon Valley, we’re among the wealthiest counties in the country. Housing is one thing, but when people are literally dying in the streets, that’s tragic and unacceptable.”
Seven other people died this past week during the rainy, cold weather, Cartwright said. She worries the death toll will only go up as lawmakers continue to fail to act.
“The city, the county, they’re not doing anything,” she said.
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