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Homeless Man's Death Spolights Services Gap

'This is really what everyone has been most concerned about,' one homeless services provider says.

William Jones, a 67-year-old transient, died unexpectedly Tuesday morning in his friend's car as they drove through downtown Watsonville.

As news of his death traveled, those who provide homeless services in the Pajaro Valley both mourned the loss and tried to determine if gaps in resources contributed.

Jones had been staying at the Salvation Army homeless shelter on Union Street, until the facility closed Aug. 15. He had been transient since then, mostly living in vehicles with friends, people have said.

The closure of the Salvation Army shelters resulted in the loss of 41 beds for transient men in the Pajaro Valley. Service providers lamented the loss and have made strides to fill those gaps, such as adding cots in the church area at Pajaro Rescue Mission.

"This is really what everyone has been most concerned about," said Mike Gordon, head of the Pajaro Valley Rescue Mission and Teen Challenge Monterey Bay, referring to the man's death.

The death is being investigated, though police do not suspect foul play. It's believed Jones succumbed to an ongoing illness; an autopsy will be performed.

Although he was living on the streets, Jones continued to receive free meals at the Salvation Army and turned down motel vouchers that were offered to him, according to Laine Hendricks, spokeswoman for the Salvation Army

She said in an e-mail to Patch, "we didn't just close the door on Bill when our mens shelter closed. Even though we didn't have a bed for him at night (which he seemed to prefer his car, anyway) we did continue to feed him, offer other helpful services or referrals, and most of all—as made evident by Captain Demetrio's statement—a place that he felt comfortable to visit and be among friends."

Some homeless men have made the transition from the Salvation Army services in downtown to the Pajaro Rescue Mission, which is across the river in Pajaro and has added cots—some from the Salvation Army—in recent weeks. However, Gordon said there is a need to provide shelter closer to the hub of Watsonville where people congregate.

Gordon and other service providers, as well as leaders in the the business and faith communities have been working to create a long-term solution in the area. One possibility is taking over management of the old Salvation Army shelters. There is a proposed agreement on the table.

"The clock is ticking and, unfortunately, people are suffering," Gordon said.

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