Ministry starts homelessness awareness campaign

SAN JOSE, Calif.

Last year, 66 people died from homelessness, and so far this year, 44 homeless people have died, according to CHAM Deliverance Ministry's pastor Scott Wagers.

"This is one of our most tragic social problems," Wagers said. "One that doesn't get enough attention because of the nature of it, because it's depressing to some people."

Wagers said the face of the county's homeless population has changed dramatically.

He said an image of a cart-pushing man or woman mumbling to him or herself on the street instantly comes to mind when one thinks about the stereotypical homeless person. But those are the chronically homeless, those suffering from mental disorders, and are only one subset of the homeless population, Wagers said.

Most of the people who are homeless today aren't even seen in public. They are working people who have fallen into the ranks of the homeless, residents who have lost their homes due to foreclosure, or veterans of the Iraq War, Wagers said. Many of them are families living in their cars, in garages, or in overcrowded shelters.

In Santa Clara County, the number of homeless people this year has reached 7,000, and there aren't enough beds for them all, Wagers said.

They need housing and jobs, but a lot of them are too proud or ashamed to ask for help, Wagers said. He said San Jose has more homeless people than any other region in California, including about 800 to 900 more than San Francisco.

Wagers is launching a campaign today outlining a plan to raise the public's awareness about homelessness and prevent more deaths this winter season.

The campaign will consist of doing outreach to bring nonprofits, faith organizations and local, state, and federal officials together in addressing the issue, and will culminate with a statewide day of prayer on March 19, 2011.

Wagers said his ministry is planning an event for that day at the Plaza de Cesar Chavez park in San Jose, and he will extend an invitation to Gov.-elect Jerry Brown to come and speak about homelessness and poverty.

One component of the campaign is finding a way to turn vacant buildings in the county into homeless shelters.

A news conference to announce the campaign and annual Thanksgiving dinner was scheduled to take place at 4 p.m. today at the First AME Zion Church, located at 949 E. San Fernando St. in San Jose.

Anyone who would like to donate to the ministry can also send money to that address.

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