It’s easy for the general public to lump all homeless people together. It’s easy to say that it must be the homeless individual’s own choice to be homeless when riches and opportunities abound in Silicon Valley. It’s easy to point the finger at “quick fix solutions” that supposedly should get everyone off the streets.
What’s hard is to face the true realities of the multi-faceted causes of homelessness. What’s hard is taking a stand for youth who are thrown into homelessness at no fault of their own. What’s hard is taking the time to talk with them about their lives and their hopes and their dreams.
This was not a press event, just an opportunity accepted by Honda to learn firsthand from homeless youth living in temporary housing.
"A congressman coming out and doing this shows us that he is interested in homeless youth," said one of Bill Wilson Center’s TAY Inn residents. "It motivates me that I can be like him someday.”
The congressman spent three hours listening to the young people’s life stories and sharing his own humble background.
The TAY Inn provides homeless transition age youth (18–25) with temporary housing and supportive services in a safe, voluntary, and welcoming 24-hour environment. Youth can stay in the program for up to 90 days. During this time, the youth work with Peer Partners to develop and work on their transition plan which includes moving to more secure housing, finding employment, and exploring vocational and educational services. During their stay, they learn independent living skills and receive mental health and substance abuse treatment. Many of these young people are former foster youth.
We need more politicians and business leaders to take time to stop and really listen to what our society has created … approximately 1.6 million children who will experience homelessness over the course of a year. In fact, in any given day, researchers estimate that more than 200,000 children have no place to live
Honda’s visit follows up on a firsthand experience that Rep. Jackie Speier had this past February when she spent a Friday night in a Redwood City homeless shelter.
“I’m still kind of reeling from the experience. Every member of Congress should be required to do what I did,” Speier told a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle. “It would help us appreciate who we are talking about. We rattle off numbers, but it doesn’t speak about the people themselves.”
In addition to Speier and Honda, other lawmakers making an effort to get a firsthand look at homelessness during the past year include Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) who spent a day shadowing a homeless Connecticut man and California gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari, who spent a night in a homeless shelter.
New York’s Covenant House in Times Square has hosted a CEO Solidarity Sleepout that features business leaders donating money for the opportunity to experience a night in the life of a homeless person. A few years back, the general manager of the New York Yankees, Brian Cashman, found himself in a sleeping bag on a sidewalk outside a crisis shelter on West 41st Street on a chilly November night. The Silicon Valley Leadership Group is also taking on the issue of ending homelessness here at home.
While the nation has seen some decrease in the number of people who are homeless, including a reduction in the number of homeless veterans and chronic homeless, San Jose has not been as lucky. After the January 2013 point in time count there was an increase of 18 percent in the overall homeless population in the past two years. With housing costs skyrocketing, decreasing homelessness will be difficult.
We will only solve the issue of homelessness if we work together. We need both prevention as well as intervention programs. Foster youth need to be supported after they age out of the system. Housing and support services need to target not only the chronic homeless, but also newly homeless families and youth. Join me and our business and government leaders in tackling the hard issue of ending homelessness in Silicon Valley.