After the death of Joseph John White, a 50-year-old homeless man found dead in the cold Saturday night behind a Safeway store in Hayward, Calif., White’s family as well as community activists want to know why dozens of homeless people must die on the streets every year in one of America’s most affluent areas.
The median household income in Alameda County, at $70,821, is 133 percent of the national average and 115 percent of California’s average, yet the city of Hayward has no homeless shelter for single men.
"Could someone give me the acceptable 'collateral damage' figure for death on the street or just plain human misery before we take action?" said Betty DeForest, a community activist who has led a long campaign to open just such a shelter in the city, in an e-mail to city officials, after learning of White’s death.
In even wealthier Santa Clara County, to the south and home to many of Silicon Valley’s most thriving technology firms, 48 homeless people have died on the streets in 2013. The median household income in that county was almost $90,000 for the years 2007 through 2011.
Alameda County had more than 4,200 homeless people in a recent survey, and 60 percent of those sleep on the streets on a nightly basis.
Santa Clara County has more than 7,600 homeless.
A recent cold spell saw four homeless men die on the streets of Santa Clara County between Thanksgiving and December 5, each succumbing to hypothermia from sleeping outdoors without adequate blankets or outerwear.
Two others, including White (pictured, with his mother), died in Alameda County. The cause of White’s death is still under investigation, but his family members say he was beaten by a group of other men who stripped him of the coat that his sister had given him just two days earlier, and left him in the cold.
"He deserves to be recognized for the person he was. He wasn't just homeless, he was my brother,” Theresa Long, the homeless man’s sister, told KTVU News.
White’s mother Mary Archuleta said that he would sometimes stay with her, but would leave because he didn’t want to feel like “a burden.”
A Santa Clara County homeless-advocacy group, EHC LifeBuilders, recently held a ceremony to memorialize the 48 dead in that county.
"It's heartbreaking to think that every name represents a real person whose life came to an end due to the harsh reality of living on the street," said Jenny Niklaus, the group’s CEO. "This is unacceptable. We can and must do better as a community."
SOURCES: KTVU News, San Jose Mercury News (2), U.S. Census Bureau (2) (3)