Op-Ed: Telling the Houseless to Wait for Help Is a Death Sentence

Why is the San Jose Housing Department handling the roll out of Tiny Homes differently than they did the preservation of mobile homes, or the struggle for renters’ rights?

In both those cases, extensive community meetings were held that were heavily attended by people representing both sides of the issues. Instead, the Housing Department had small, private meetings with hand-picked community members about Tiny Homes (a.k.a. Bridge Housing Communities) and it invited no houseless people or advocates for the houseless.

The community—rightfully feeling things were being imposed upon them without input—reacted. The media reported on it. And still the Housing Department didn’t change its course.

Where was the literature explaining the success rate of sanctioned encampments, tiny homes and housing in other cities and states? Where was the homeless census to help illustrate our large senior/disabled houseless population, our under 25 houseless population, our houseless families? Where were the currently houseless folks to share their stories? The houseless advocates to explain the work they do every day? And what about the formerly houseless folks to share their success stories?

As advocates of the houseless, we demand answers to these questions. We want to know why advocates and houseless people were shut out of the process. We call on all council members to ask these questions.

Houseless people and those of us who advocate for them have been told, “wait for permanent supportive housing.” We've been told to “wait for Measure A funds.” We have waited and waited.

While we’ve waited, the death rate of houseless people skyrocketed 164 percent between 2011 and 2016, and nearly doubled between 2015 and 2016. Asking us to wait for permanent supportive housing is equivalent to telling people to die.

And yet, that’s exactly what the mayor and housing department have done with their refusal to pursue the sanctioned encampments the city and county passed in 2015. (Note: The houseless death rate has nearly doubled during this time.) Sanctioned encampments have worked so well in Seattle that the city added three more last December, bringing the total to six.

Meanwhile, San Jose clings to its permanent supportive housing as the only real option—which, according to county documents, will take 11 years to build homes for the nearly 5,000 houseless we currently have. That total excludes the ones who will die waiting.

At the county Board of Supervisors HULET meeting last Thursday, Supervisor Dave Cortese suggested replacing the short-term tiny homes programs with basic RVs that can be purchased for about $15,000 apiece, or about 15-20 percent of the cost of tiny homes. They can also be deployed in a matter of months instead of years. Cortese’s proposed RV parks could help as many as 1,700 people for the same price as tiny homes’ 250 people. We call on all council members to pursue this cost effective strategy.

Residents of Districts 2, 3 and 9 are correct when they feel it’s unfair for their neighborhoods to be the only ones selected for tiny homes—out of an original 99 sites. Tiny homes and/or sanctioned encampments should be in every district, as the mayor and council agreed.

Pretending houseless people don’t exist in every neighborhood—and trying to push them into other neighborhoods—solves nothing. Housing houseless people helps both the houseless people and their neighbors. Almost all of us have someone in our lives who struggles with mental health and/or addiction, and we know being houseless only exacerbates the situation.

While these people wait for housing, the city wants to remove houseless people from St. James Park, insisting there are options for people to get food seven days a week, “within blocks of the park.” This is patently untrue.

The city also continues to pursue its harassment of houseless people via merciless and unconstitutional sweeps that cause further trauma and hardship. We call for a moratorium on the enforcement of both of these issues until the city and/or county comes up with a viable short and long term housing plan. One that includes input from all residents—housed and unhoused—and a full service houseless center, where houseless people can get food, showers, social services and more, all within four blocks of St. James Park.

August 26 marks the two-year anniversary of Michael Tyree’s death. Michael was a mentally ill houseless man beaten to death by guards at the county jail. His death, like the death of other houseless people who die in custody, was not included in the houseless death count, yet it is the most high profile death of a houseless person in the past few years. Had he and the other houseless people not been told to wait for permanent housing, Michael and the others might be here today.

Robert Aguirre is unhoused and an advocate for the unhoused with H.O.M.E.L.E.S.S. Shaunn Cartwright is an advocate for the unhoused with Rise Up for Justice and South Bay Tenants’ Union. Sandy Perry is an advocate for the unhoused with CHAM Deliverance Ministries and H.O.M.E.L.E.S.S. Opinions are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.

14 Comments

  1. First, I don’t trust any homeless statistics cited by homeless advocates. I’ve worked as a police officer in San Jose for more than 20 years and I haven’t noticed any dramatic increase in deaths among the homeless. Second, the city probably realizes that the more they publicize plans like these, the greater the outcry they will receive. Third, homeless advocates might have more credibility if they were honest enough to admit that a significant percentage of the homeless population is homeless as a result of their own behavior.

  2. “Where was the literature explaining the success rate of sanctioned encampments, tiny homes and housing in other cities and states?”

    There’s no literature because these tiny slums aren’t working:
    Barbara Poppe, who coordinated federal homelessness policy for most of Barack Obama’s presidency, advises against funding tiny houses, arguing the money would be better spent constructing permanent affordable housing.

    “Why would we accept that people should be living in huts that don’t have access to water, electricity and sanitation?” Ms. Poppe said, adding that such basic accommodation stigmatizes homeless people.

    In all cities where so-called “temporary” tiny homes were created for the homeless, the homes have been permanent. Since these tiny huts will inevitably be permanent, they need to meet all the safety, plumbing and structural rules for permanent houses.

  3. This is a very poignant and heart-wrenching story. We as a community are unwilling to go the extra mile to help the least among us right here in the heart of affluent Silicon Valley. The almighty dollar as represented in the perceived reduction in home values that would ensue if “Tiny Homes” were built in proximity is the real driver for inaction on this front. Shame on us as a community. So racism is alive and well in the heart of liberal San Jose. No need to bemoan the racism in Charlottesville and other cities in the South. It’s time for us to look in the mirror.

    • In just the last year: We went the extra mile when we approved Measure A Housing for the homeless. We went the extra mile when we created Casa De Novo housing for the homeless in SJ. We went the extra mile when we created the Evans Lane Housing Project in Almaden. We go the extra mile with the hundred homeless programs already in San Jose that cover everything from housing to food to showers and pet care for the homeless.

    • Homeless people are a race now? What race is that?. Human? Nearly 50% of these people are homeless because there are no institutions left to house and treat mental illness, Thank You ACLU for suing and winning on behalf of the insane back in the 70’s so these people now wander the streets and inhabit government and keep both in condition of absolute squalor.

      Alcoholics, drug abusers and criminals likewise need to be institutionalized. Homeless Illegals need to be returned to wherever they came from.

      What’s left? Working people that were victims of the last administration not giving a crap about American middle class workers. America people veterans of every color, sex, and age. These people don’t need a hand out but a hand up, they need a job, and address that could easily be set up, by the city. If they are willing to work every day this city is filthy and needs cleaning up. Someone to fix meals and sit for kids. Someone to police the area they live in, Someone needs to fix the streets. Those that will not work will leave. Instead the city wants to spend millions suing the president. Utter nonsense!

      I don’t know if the solution is a tent city to work out of, or barracks. Putting people in boxes and spreading misery out of sight into schoolyards and parks is not a solution. I can’t think of anything that will antagonize the taxpaying voter into removing the current inhabitants of city hall.

    • Ha! – it wasn’t long before this became a race issue. Talk about reducing the credibility of a cause. Tiny homes don’t work, people need safe and clean living conditions. Figure out how to make peace with the landlords and you’ll have less of a homeless problem. They are the only ones with a viable place for these people to live, because they sure aren’t going to live in your house and it will take a decade to build enough housing. For all its issues, VASH-HUD is getting homeless vets into houses, which is at least an attempt at partnering with landlords. Keep making yourself feel better by playing oppression olympics and shaming your neighbors and small business people with this nonsense and you’ll just have more of the same.

      Grow up!

  4. What a ridiculous attack on homeowners and communities. We should not accept any half-baked plan that comes out of the City. There is a horrible track record for existing government and organizations in maintaining these programs. Enabling those that want to take advantage of the City is not sustainable.

    There is no supporting “literature” or statistics because these programs are already failing in other cities. Your entitled attitude in this op-ed and others is a total turn-off. No one owes you anything, and only you have control as individuals over how we deal with that fact of life.

    We are know there are people who want a photo-op and bullet point for their political or non-profit executive resume at the expense of the residents. Now they are starting to use divisiveness to equate us to racists (above)- their true colors are showing! Really disappointed in SJ Inside.

  5. Please stop with the ridiculous use of language here. “Unhoused” and “houseless” are unnecessary when “homeless” is an accepted non-derogatory term that flows better in language. I get that terms like “bum” or the like have become stigmatized but this constant dance of being offended by simple terminology distracts from the real issues.

  6. The people commenting with complete lack of empathy along with their factual inaccuracies are pathetic. So Mr.SJ cop. You guys are known for your caring so much for the homeless community we should really listen when you speak? And these other folks throwing around complete b.s. about what does or doesn’t work- it’s clear you’ve spent zero time researching let alone providing any backup data. This reduces your arguments to nothing but weak rhetoric. Stop. It’s embarrassing. You need to check your math. I think you forgot to carry a one. Here are some facts you ate attempting to dispute with opinions. Take your time: check out the Executive Summary. It’s simpler to read. https://www.sccgov.org/sites/oah/coc/census/Pages/home.aspx

    • > It’s simpler to read. https://www.sccgov.org/sites/oah/coc/census/Pages/home.aspx

      Susan:

      I have now addressed this several times, but apparently you haven’t been paying attention.

      The “Santa Clara County Homeless Census and Survey” is completely bogus.

      It is UNSCIENTIFIC.

      It is simply a made up narrative to justify federal funding for government social workers.

      Quoting myself AGAIN:

      Here’s all you need to know from the “Homeless Survey”:
      > The 2017 Planning Committee worked towards several important project goals
      :
      >  To preserve current federal funding for homeless services and to enhance the ability to raise new funds;
      In other words, it was “goal-seeking” (get more money) and it was completely “unscientific”. It is a textbook example of “confirmation bias”.

  7. If every self-styled homeless advocate took just one homeless person into his or her home, the homeless “problem” would be eliminated. Mayor Sam, why don’t you lead by example by taking in a homeless veteran?

  8. Can someone explain to me why people who cannot afford to live in the Bay Area are entitled to be given free and permanent supportive housing at taxpayer expense?
    Are the aforementioned Authors registered lobbyists with the City of San Jose?
    I know the authors; they are nice people, they want to help those who cannot afford to live in San Jose for a variety of reasons but…I would not, have not and will not give any of them support of any kind.
    The entire Bay Area has morphed into one large “Beverly Hills.” Those that cannot afford to live here are not entitled to government subsidies to live among us. They have become, in the words of a friend of mine-a PhD in Electrical Engineering from India, “Untouchables” and as such, in the continued lack of personal funds to rent or buy a house of their own, have an affirmative duty to depart from our presence with dispatch.
    I am not a heartless man, I sincerely wish the “Untouchables” and their supporters the very best in their combined quest for attaining self-esteem and financial independence from their various states of poverty. David S. Wall

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