Bill Wilson Center CEO Leads by Example by Offering Spare Room to Homeless College Student

A mini fridge, blackout curtains and a microwave were just a few of the items on Sparky Harlan’s holiday shopping list—but they weren’t gifts for friends or family members.

Rather, the Bill Wilson Center CEO needed them to prepare a spare room in her house for college students with no place else to go.

Just a week before Christmas, Harlan’s first tenant, a San Jose State computer science major named Abdul, moved in as part of a broader initiative by the Bill Wilson Center, Airbnb and local colleges to offer free lodging to homeless students.

Armed with a $250,000 state grant, the Bill Wilson Center will cover the cost and book rooms for homeless college students on the short-term rentals website.

But with a goal of housing 100 homeless students in 100 days, Harlan—who is opening her home free of charge and personally receiving none of the grant money for it—said she felt the need to step up and lead by example.  “If I want other people to put up their spare bedrooms to help homeless college students, I should do that also,” she said.

Santa Clara County’s homeless population has reached staggering numbers in the last few years. A 2019 point-in-time census found 9,706 homeless residents on the county’s streets in January—an increase of more than 20 percent since the same time in 2017.

As for college students, a recent survey found that 22 percent of homeless respondents in San Jose between ages 18 and 25 were enrolled in college. But the time between quarters or semesters leaves students particularly vulnerable, as libraries have shortened hours and many other school facilities close.

“Over the winter break [we’re] making sure students don’t end up homeless during this four-week period when classes end and begin again,” Harlan said.

In Abdul’s case, his roommate recently graduated, leaving him in a last-minute bind to find a place to stay. The quick turnover of apartments for college students is something that Harlan said is becoming increasingly common.

“They sleep in their cars or they start trying to couch surf,” she explained. “There’s just a lot of this very on-the-edge student population out there. I think that’s why you have some of the colleges saying, ‘We don’t see the homelessness you’re talking about,’ because it’s not how you normally define a homeless population.”

Since the Bill Wilson Center kicked off its 100-day challenge on Nov. 4, Catherine Voss Plaxton—SJSU’s interim associate vice president of student services—said the collaboration has served 37 students.

“With the capacity we have built through partnerships like the 100-day challenge, we have more tools to address student housing needs beyond on-campus housing,” she said.

Anecdotally, that seems to be the case.

Ashely Crosdale, vice president of San Jose State University’s Student Homeless Alliance, said they’ve had fewer homeless students come to them in search of housing since the program’s launch. “We always open our doors,” she said. “As far as right now, no one has really [asked about winter housing]. I think that really has to do with the proactiveness of the 100-day challenge.”

As for welcoming Abdul into her home, Harlan said the experience has been rewarding yet heartbreaking. In adding the finishing touches to the suite, she stashed some snacks for her guest to enjoy during his stay—just as she would if he were her own child.

When Abdul saw the morsels, Harlan said he remarked that it was enough food to hold him over for two days. “There’s no way that was enough food to feed me for two days,” she said. “[But] he’s grateful for it.”

Grace Hase is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @grace_hase.

28 Comments

  1. > Bill Wilson Center CEO Leads by Example

    > Armed with a $250,000 state grant . . .

    Doing good by spending other people’s money.

    It’s fun. Everyone should have a job like Sparky’s.

    AND . . . it pays very well, too.

    Remind us again how much loot Sparky PERSONALLY receives from the “non-profit” universe?

    I WANT TO FOLLOW SPARKY’S EXAMPLE!

  2. By the way, for the record, I would like to withdraw my prediction that Beto O’Rourke will win the Democratic Presidential nomination.

    Anyone who can prove that they relied on my prediction is entitled to a full refund.

    (Note: being entitled to a full refund is not the same as receiving a full refund.)

  3. It is true Bill Wilson is one of the few local agencies that houses the homeless, but they have big flaws too. A local single mother who was experiencing suicidal ideation weekly started to receive services. She was homeless and living at Bill Wilson with her infant child. After few months in therapy, the young mother was about to complete her last few classes to complete her academic degree, and having interviews for jobs. She was also applying for housing options. She needed the job to qualify for these options. This was the end of a mental health treatment where client was very engaged and improving. All she needed was a few more weeks to reach her goals. Bill Wilson kicked her out at this very stage. Being homeless once again, she stopped attending her classes, looking for a job, and eventually stopped showing up for sessions. The policies, workplace culture, and the salaries of “non-profit” agencies’ CEOs and other executives need attention from the county. The non-profit sector in Santa Clara County is a very for profit business due to lack of regulation and supervisors’ cozy relationships with the top players of these places!

    • > She was homeless and living at Bill Wilson with her infant child.

      You left out the beginning of the story.

      How did she have an infant child?

      How did she become homeless?

      Where is the father of the child?

      Where are her parents?

      Where are her siblings?

      Where are the infant child’s grandparents?

      Who should be held responsible for the bad decisions in the woman’s life.

      Who was responsible for her “plight”?

      Why should we accept that Sparky Harlan is the hero in this story?

      How much was Sparky paid for her heroism?

      If she was paid for her heroism, is she really a hero, or is this just “business as usual”?

      • Bobbled! You are not much more ignorant because you have no more gray matter in your brain! This is not a woman who made or was making bad choices! She was living with a severe mental illness! Go to the pharmacy and buy yourself a kilogram of neurons!

  4. I’m a bit confused. Is the CEO receiving money from the grant in order to provide for her “tenant”? In other words, is the grant paying the rent for the student? Or is she offering a room in her home free of charge? The article claims, “Just a week before Christmas, Harlan’s first tenant, a San Jose State computer science major named Abdul, moved in as part of a broader initiative by the Bill Wilson Center, Airbnb and local colleges to offer free lodging to homeless students.” Is it really “free lodging” or is it just free to the student and the CEO is getting the rent from the grant money. This is not clear to me.

    Can the author clear this up please?

    Thank you.

    • They use the grant Jill. Nothing free comes from the CEOs. The state and the county need a unit of its own to work on this un-house people situation which is a problem tech companies have created for the local people. Instead, the state and the county rely on third parties “non-profits” to misuse our tax dollars. Once on the hands of CEOs, it is mostly used to pay top employees’ business types salaries. Has any one checked on the local CEOs salaries and benefits? Some of them earn way more money than Sam Laccardo…Then, they have their fundraising events asking people for money. These “non-profit” people want the image of compassionate individuals and the salaries of high tech and business executives. Then they run for political office or vise versa! When our local politicians have their political events, the employees of these non-profits agencies are the majority of the attendees and the ones contributing to our local politicians’ campaigns. This is some good old fashion corruption at the level of India and Mexico! AMLO trying to fight that corruption is equivalent of medical doctors working on a level four ovarian cancer patient. One of the top paid local CEOs, Reymundo Espinoza, Gardner in San Jose. This agency also has unequal pay for equal work isdues and engages in pampering male employees. They even exposed employees and clients to porn during working hours! Grace how about a report on local “non-profit” CEOs’ salaries? How much of our tax dollars go to their pockets and how much is used to help those in need?

      • > Grace how about a report on local “non-profit” CEOs’ salaries?

        “Liberals” are notorious for “doing well while doing good”.

        I believe that Sparky’s compensation was published on SJI a number of years ago, and my recollection was that it was “very liberal”. Plus the fact that Sparky has been in the “doing good” business for many, many years, and her lifetime “take” from the “non-profit” sector likely makes her a multi-millionaire.

        The San Jose Business Journal has published lists of the “Top 25” or “Tob 50” non-profits in Silicon Valley. I don’t recall whether the Bill Wilson Center was on the list or not, but the compensation of some of the CEO’s was — in my opinion — shamelessly extravagant.

        There are very few “charities” and “non-profits” that are deserving of our trust. The public tends to take their “narratives” at face value and just assumes they’re all big hearted people just trying to do good. But the compensation numbers for their executives and officers as reported on tax forms reveals the stark reality that many do gooders like living the good life almost as much as Gordon Gecko.

    • For clarification, Sparky Harlan is not being paid any funds from her Airbnb guest or from Bill Wilson Center. Sparky is donating her room so the student has a place to stay.

      • Pilar, Bill Wilson will use existing federal. State, and local funding sources to cover the short-term rents lasting few days, weeks, or months. This is a partnership of Sam Liccardo, Bill Wilson, and San Jose State University. “Airbnb will refund its host and guest any booking fees to Bill Wilson Center for the pilot program…” The love relationship of local politicians and third party non-profit is at its best here! Then Sam Liccardo gives a tax break to Google who financially contributes to Liccardo, Ash Kalra, and other local politicians campaigns! Then Google and other tech companies bring more people including those under the visa fraud making the housing situation for liocals even worst. This is just a never ending big mess! Our community and local college students indeed need help fighting these powerful greedy people! WE DESERVE BETTER THAN THIS!

      • Thanks to federal, state, and local funding 37 former homeless students are now housed and Bill Wilson has more work to do. Thank you tax payers. April 15 is the last day to report your 2019 taxes!

    • I welcomed the college student into my home without charging. I have a spare bedroom and thought that I could help out by offering a student who was temporarily without a home a place to stay. Also, I did provide him with food in addition to snacks. I will house others in the future.

      • Sparky, explain the “Armed …$250k…Bill…cover cost…” …what is this article about Sparky? An invitation for local “non-profit” CEOs to house homeless college students at their homes for free? If yes, that is very sweet of you! If not, what is this article about?

      • I am glad you are doing well Robert. It is nothing personal about Sparky but the dysfunctional non-profit agencies in the county. The service Bill Wilson gives to homeless minors is better than the service they give to the older clients. Those who are now the dysfunctional parents you are talking about. You are one of those successful stories. What is the purpose of Sparky bragging about her example? The article could simply list the services the agency provides. She is inviting the good comments but also the not so good ones. Bill Wilson clients typically see other providers, and they share their stories. Bill Wilson does not have we a good reputation! Catholic Charities is also a top bad reputation agency.

  5. They can also be housed at Juvenile Hall….I believe they have hundreds of open beds for homeless college students

  6. I had the misfortune of requiring BWC’s services as a teen. They were great. They caught wind that SJPD were on their way to capture me, let me know, and gave me enough time and a bus pass to escape.

    That episode of my life was the result of 2 dysfunctional parents and the only proof I can give of that is I’m a hardworking functioning member of society that contributes to his family today. At least one parent is visibly dysfunctional, and the other does a great job of pretending.

    That being said, I’m having a hard time digesting what people are saying in this thread about Sparky. She’s let me be her friend on Facebook for several years now, and the impression I get is she’s OK. I remember earlier this year when she was contemplating fostering some older kids, and she’s followed through.

    I don’t see Zuckerberg or any other Silicon Valley CEO doing this. Bill Gates? Jeff Bezos? How about Tim Cook? So save all the shade in this thread for those clowns making in an hour what Sparky makes in a year. There are people way more capable of doing this but don’t because they are truly selfish.

    Good on you Sparky, keep impressing me.

  7. In 2016, the nation’s 350 biggest public companies paid their CEO an average of $15.6 million (source: Mercury News).

    The Bill Wilson Center CEO – like most local nonprofit CEOs – doesn’t even make 2% of this average corporate CEO salary. She works endless hours and decades to help the most vulnerable in our community. I WISH she made as much as corporate CEOs.

    • > In 2016, the nation’s 350 biggest public companies paid their CEO an average of $15.6 million (source: Mercury News).

      This is a RIDICULOUS comparison!

      There is NO equivalency between a “Top 350 public corporation” and the Bill Wilson Center.

      Get outta here!

      > The Bill Wilson Center CEO – like most local nonprofit CEOs – doesn’t even make 2% of this average corporate CEO salary.

      Give us the effing number! It’s a BIG number, it’s publicly available, and the grifting do-gooders of the social-work industrial complex are EMBARRASSED by how much loot they’re raking off the dinner plates of the troubled and stressed people they are CLAIMING to help.

      Oh, alright. I’ll do it myself!

      BILL WILSON CENTER
      IRS Form 990
      Tax Year 2015
      Schedule J

      Sparky Harlan

      Base compensation + other reportable + retirement and other deferred compensation + nontaxable benefits:

      $255,433 !!!

      And for tax year 2017:

      $281,538 !!!

      DOING WELL WHILE DOING GOOD.

      More than the mayor makes, more than a judge makes, more than a state supreme court associate justice makes ($249,300)

  8. Let’s talk about the staff sleeping with clients, at the drop-in center. Or the director who was caught with child pornography. Why not take in a chronically homeless adult?

  9. Kudos to Ms. Harlan! As the title of the article states, “Bill Wilson Center CEO Leads by Example by Offering Spare Room to Homeless College Student.” And for some, thank you for making this comment section entertaining when your choice of words have nothing to do with the contents of the article.

  10. It would be helpful to understand exactly how the process works. I’m now clear on the fact that Ms. Harlan is not receiving any money for the room she is offering to the student. Thank you to Grace for the clarification. I am still not clear on what the $250,000 grant is being used for. Could someone, perhaps Ms. Harlan or someone named Pilar here on this post that seems to know, walk us through the process of exactly how the program works and what money goes where. It still does not make sense to me. Do all the students that obtain housing through this program live in free rentals rooms from gracious homeowners? How can a homeowner find out about how to offer a room through this program. And…most importantly what is the $250,000 grant for if all the rooms are for free? And if they are not free, then are these homeowners getting grant money to house students. Who is getting the money and exactly what is it used for?

    And PLEASE if you do not know and simply loath people and programs just because you’re a cranky, negative, bore of a person, then try hard to ignore my question. Your tired responses only show why nothing is ever clear. We have to wade through your scum answers to seek knowledge.

    • > Your tired responses only show why nothing is ever clear. We have to wade through your scum answers to seek knowledge.

      HA HA HA HA HA!

      TRANSLATION: “Don’t confuse me with the facts, I want to believe the sunny, sugary fairy tales about magical unicorns with big hearts giving free housing to poor college students.”

  11. > And for tax year 2017:

    > $281,538 !!!

    So, if Sparky were paid $563,000, would we have gotten TWICE as much compassion, and would she have housed TWO college students in her home?

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