Op-Ed: Apathy Towards the Unhoused is Dangerous

Imagine waking up in the middle of the night, your home and all your belongings irretrievably damaged. Imagine that the mayor and other officials went around knocking on doors, alerting folks to potential flooding, but not in your neighborhood. And that the mayor was doing publicity about his great flood “strategery.”

This is what happened to numerous unhoused people along the creek the night of Feb. 13. They awoke to flooded tents and belongings, salvaging whatever they could, with no help from the city or county. Ironically, the night of the flood was preceded by a “memorial service” for the 157 people that died on the streets last year. The youngest two being one month and five months old and the eldest being 88 and 94.

There were no unhoused people at the memorial. HomeFirst didn’t pass out flyers at their other location, so they didn’t know about the memorial to their brethren. And for those staying at Little Orchard (aka Little Torture), lunch was served when the memorial began. It was obviously not a memorial for unhoused people, it was a PR stunt with elected officials and HomeFirst board members reading the names of the fallen.

One would think, after a memorial, that our most fragile neighbors would be foremost in the minds of officials—particularly on a day with torrential rain and flood warnings.

This clearly wasn’t the case. Nobody came to warn them the night of the flood. Nobody planned ahead and evacuated them during the day. Nobody opened the Overnight Warming Locations (OWLs), one location being right next to the folks who got flooded.

Who is responsible for this failure? Is it Santa Clara County, which issues weather alerts that trigger the opening of the OWLs? Is it the county, which issued a press release declaring the fifth inclement weather episode of the year on Feb. 13 but didn’t trigger the opening of the OWLs until two days later? Was it HomeFirst, which currently run the OWLs? Was it the city of San Jose, which is responsible for warning and evacuating people? I’ve reached out to folks from all these agencies and none have stepped forward to accept the responsibility. Nobody is being held accountable.

Yet many folks lost everything they had—tents, blankets, clothing, you name it, that are now full of river water—or are in the river. They have no way to clean the items they retrieved, so many are huddled under wet blankets in wet tents, wearing wet clothes, sitting through another day of downpours and waiting for the OWL to open for the night. The city is only opening OWLs at three locations, not the four they usually do and one of them, Leininger Community Center, is not being utilized—probably because it’s so hard to find. It should be moved back to Tully Road.

Adding insult to injury, in the press release sent out by the county, the hotline they list for needy families says there is not an inclement weather episode and the OWLs aren’t open. I wonder how many families have called and ended up in the street or car, not knowing OWLs were indeed open.

Who is going to provide compensation for their loss? Why shouldn’t they be compensated like the unhoused victims of the last flood? How can we prevent pneumonia, a leading cause of unhoused deaths last year, if we can’t even keep our citizens out of a flood? Who is responsible for this failure? And, more importantly, how do we prevent this from happening ever again?

If the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) has their way, they will cut the 22 line, the only 24-hour line in the city, a vital lifeline for residents of “Hotel 22.” This will take away the overnight safe haven for seniors, parents with children, and women who ride the bus all night to stay safe and warm.

Should Route 22 be a rolling overnight shelter in the first place? No, not at all. Because there isn’t adequate shelter space for the over 5,000 unhoused people in the county, that’s what it’s become. The city and county aren’t creating any new shelters or navigation centers, regardless of how desperately they’re needed, so people are forced to pay nightly for a spot on Hotel 22.

There are very few shelters where people feel safe. There are even less shelters for families to feel safe. There are very few shelters that accommodate a non-9-to-5 work schedule. There is one LGBTQ shelter, but it only sleeps 15 people. Over 50 percent of all unhoused women are raped at least once, so many have dogs to protect them—dogs that aren’t allowed at many shelters. In inclement weather, most shelters are over capacity.

If the VTA cuts the 22 from 1 to 4am, there will be more vulnerable people in our creeks. More people will succumb to the wet and cold, adding to an unhoused death rate that rises each year. Route 22 saves lives.

Speaking of saving lives, local law enforcement agencies have taken to doing “warrant checks” in encampments. They say it allows them to get to know folks in the encampments and remove only folks with warrants.

But it doesn’t create a sense of goodwill in the camps, it just ratchets up the fear and distrust. It also destabilizes camps and makes them less safe, particularly for women, if the head of the camp, the person who maintains order, or  male protector are removed for a warrant. Oftentimes, a warrant that’s for being unhoused—trespass, petty theft, unpaid tickets, drug use, etcetera.

Dangerous people should be removed from camps, but with law enforcement continuously criminalizing homelessness by charging folks for unhoused crimes, more and more folks become “criminals” with warrants. Criminalizing homelessness ensures continued homelessness as people with a record have a much harder time finding employment and housing.

It’s seems to me that the city, county, VTA and others have little regard for human life. If they did, the 22 wouldn’t be under attack, unhoused folks wouldn’t be subject to random raids by law enforcement and someone would’ve figured out that creek dwelling folks needed to be evacuated to an OWL before the flood.

Any of us can become unhoused after a medical issue, job loss, the loss of a relationship, a catastrophic fire or some other unforeseen disaster. We need to show our unhoused neighbors compassion and protect them when the city, county and others fail to do so. We need to demand accountability for these repeated assaults on unhoused people. We need to demand accountability when unhoused people are left to fend for themselves in a flood. We need to demand and show more empathy and less apathy.

Shaunn Cartwright is an activist, housing rights advocate and co-founder of South Bay Tenants Union. Opinions in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].


  1. I’m so disgusted with this city I’m rolling up my tarp, soggy crap, and my brand new stolen shopping cart and I’m moving to San Francisco.

  2. I don’t have apathy towards them so much as I have apathy towards those accepting the millions of dollars claiming to help them. Reality is, San Jose is now prime real estate, and the only way a Section 8 landlord can turn a profit is by going vertical, something myself and many other residents don’t want to see.

    The idea of allowing 3+ story warehouses of section 8 apartments is a scary venture to say the least. It’s concentrating a problem, allowing drug dealers, pimps, and protection racket schemers less effort in taking advantage of these folks while making the neighborhoods they’re built in worse, not better.

    Personally I like the idea of bussing them out, where land is cheaper. If we want to pay for it, fine, but let’s find some land someplace that isn’t quite as expensive. Let’s not do what LA, Las Vegas, and SF have done I.E. bus them out with no support. Build some villages where the land is cheap (Salton Sea is a decent spot) and give them a free house, some work, and treatment. It’s not a concept foreign to San Jose. Family Camp is located nowhere near SJ or SCC county, but SJ owns the land.

    By providing these things in San Jose, we’re just putting out a huge “Welcome” sign to people that won’t be able to adapt to quickly building the type of wealth they need to plant roots here. Let’s stop doing that.

    • I agree with your comments. I wish some of those making statements about homeless would think more about teaching people to be independent and self sufficient, instead of enabling this lifestyle .

    • Silicon Valley is a ‘community of problem solvers’ , who can’t solve a simple problem,, because they refuse to do their ‘due diligence”, and read the vast professional literature, of effective ways to help the ‘unhoused. ‘Chronic homelessness’ is considered a ‘simple problem’ , precisely because the answer is already known. There is nothing left to figure out!

      There is nothing more farcical, than a group of engineers…….pulling out their schematics….and trying to use their engineering skills, to try and solve a social problem. That is not their domain of expertise! When you push a strong ‘STEM’ [ science, technology, engineering, and math] curriculum….and chase everyone away, who has a social science degree….you chase away everyone who knows the answers, you seek! Talk to a social scientist.That is their area of ‘expertise’!

      The ‘Housing First’ approach….has worked spectacularly well….everywhere in the country, and the world….that it has been tried! Simply put all the homeless people in some kind of shelter, and then connect them with the services they need to overcome their problems. And, this approach always saves taxpayers a huge amount of money….by eliminating police costs, court costs , and medical costs. Problem solved!! [….but, don’t ask an engineer! that is not their department!]

      • >>The ‘Housing First’ approach….has worked spectacularly well….everywhere in the country, and the world….that it has been tried! Simply put all the homeless people in some kind of shelter, and then connect them with the services they need to overcome their problems. And, this approach always saves taxpayers a huge amount of money….by eliminating police costs, court costs , and medical costs. Problem solved!! [….but, don’t ask an engineer! that is not their department!]

        Everywhere you say? Did you ask Seattle?

        “Another ‘housing first’ fail”

        >But the presence of Licton Springs concerned neighbors, and calls to police for help in the area increased by 62 percent in one year, The Seattle Times reported.

        Wow, that just completely busted up everything you just said. Maybe we SHOULD listen to engineers, because it seems all these folks with BA degrees political science and public administration can do is take $20m from adobe and give their borderline unemployable family members jobs for $150k@year to sit around and not come up with solutions.

  3. If you aren’t making $150K+ a year then you need to get out.

    I just solved the problem.

    You can say, Thank You.

    • Not one of our grocery stores, retail stores, service stations, or even banks….pays their employees, that much money. So, what we will have left….is a community of greasy-haired engineering nerds….with nobody around to cut their hair, or sell them shampoo.

  4. Shaunn, how can a concerned citizen help? Where can one volunteer their time to be supportive and address all of these issues that you are sharing? How can one help you advocate for this demographic? What can we do?

    • > How can one help you advocate for this demographic?


      No more advocacy is needed. The public griftocracy is full of big ideas on how to extract money from simple and distracted productive people and fund amply emolumented bureaucracies, departments, and committees to envision imaginative and compassionate solutions.

      > Where can one volunteer their time to be supportive and address all of these issues that you are sharing?

      In order to be a “supportive volunteer” you can pull on your rubber gloves and hazmat suit, grab a trash bag and pooper scooper and go to the nearest “homeless camp” (there’s a premier camp at Highway 85 and Almaden Expressway) and start scooping!

      Twenty years from now, when your grandkids ask you what you did in the Great Homeless War, you can tell them “I shoveled sh*t in California”. (Apologies to General George S. Patton.)

    • This problem is the result of political (feel good) hacks. They have ruined CA with their BS rhetoric. Within this article, one must also address the mental health crises. Stop pontificating you politicians, and DO something. Spend our tax dollars you rob us of and build (bring back) hospitals for our mentally ill. That’s a positive start and solution to the mental health crises. And we hard working tax payers would actually see the benefits. A win, win.

      Regarding the 22 VTA bus line, it is a lifeline for many. My children’s father who suffered from schizophrenia, was on that bus late at night. Back in the day, he was treated horribly by society and was afraid. Stigma against our mentally ill unfortunately, still exists today.

  5. The cops used to roust vagrants and bums. A cop’s “Move on” was almost always sufficient, and the bums would MovOn. No problem.

    Now vagrants have set up permanent camps, which bring the same disease, crime, and sanitation problems found in refugee camps. And guess who has to pay for those problems, too…

    Why don’t the cops still roust bums? Answer: politics. TPTB (the powers that be; the Mayors & City Councils) have sent the cops a clear message: hands off! We harvest some votes from them!”

    So TPTB would rather inconvenience everyone else — which means there is something seriously wrong with their priorities.

    Politics is the real reason bums are allowed free rein, and this author’s attempt to shame the folks who are paying the freight is just self-serving hypocrisy (I’ll retract that, along with issuing a sincere public apology, if the author and a dozen of her do-gooder pals can prove that they’ve each been providing free room and board in their own homes for one or more of the vagrants that Ms. Cartwright scolds us about here).

    A wise person often wrote:

    The Left believes none of the things they lecture the rest of us about.

    This article is another example of that truism. The author’s basic reason for her holier-than-thou finger-wagging is because she presumes to decide how our earnings should be spent. But until she walks her talk, it’s simply hypocrisy in action… who elected her, anyway?

    The “homeless” are coddled because the current crop of electeds gives them priority over responsible working people — the ones who pay for it all.

    That needs to change, STAT.

    The author says, It’s [sic] seems to me…

    May I translate? Thank you:

    “It seems to me that you taxpayers should just STFU and keep paying for the crowd squatting down by the river, or anywhere else they want to squat in our city, and I am better than the taxpayers at deciding how much money should be spent, and where — and they need to spend even more of it, where I say, like for free housing for anyone who refuses to work. Because that’s how it seems to me.”

    Next election the voters should ask each other: “If we replaced one or all of these electeds, how could their replacements make this situation any worse?!”

    Some new blood on the Council would make our city a better place to live. So when the next election rolls around, consider supporting candidates who pledge to represent the people who pay for it all.

    This pendulum has swung too far in the wrong direction, and for far too long. It needs to swing back toward the center, and if the current electeds don’t sit up straight pay attention to the folks being forced to pay for everything, they may well decide to replace this Mayor and his Council cronies.

    It’s happened before — and for reasons that were trivial by comparison.

    • > Why don’t the cops still roust bums? Answer: politics. TPTB (the powers that be; the Mayors & City Councils) have sent the cops a clear message: hands off! We harvest some votes from them!”

      These folks aren’t really the voting type. Not completely disagreeing with you there Smokey, but I think the real reason is like I said above, it’s more about money and favors. With $20m from Adobe to “solve” the problem, all that will happen is a few lucky contestants will get to play, “Homeless committee” for a handsome per Diem of $3000 per 1 hour meeting per month. Follow that up with a quid pro quo to employ some politicians otherwise unemployable relative for another $250k@year to run the program. Of course, he/she will need a staff of 10 because the problem is too big for them to solve on their own, so it’s another $1m per year to payroll. Tack on another $100k@year lease in some ivory tower high rise, because they can’t be bothered to share space with the city or adobe.

      After 5 years the committee will run out of money, but before they do they will have built a tiny house (Basically a Tuff Shed) for $60,000 that goes to some union carpenters, and declare the program a success.

  6. Shaun, couple easy questions for you to answer… how many “unhoused” are currently living under your roof? Is there a waiting list, or whoever shows up gets a bed? Background check? When no beds are available, surely you allow camping in the front and back yards, right?

    Last question… what’s your address?

  7. Jeez so many of these comments are so self centered and downright mean.
    Obviously must of you don’t actually care about the unhoused like not having a place to live is somehow evil or wrong or illegal instead of often the result of medical emergencies, mental health, or any number of other reasons that are out of their control.
    The number of people who want to live without housing is extremely small. They are driven by circumstance, and trying to make the best of their lives. Stop hating people.

    • Or we’ve repeatedly tried to help… and now realize that no amount of caring, wishing, hoping or spending will work.

      There’s very obvious reasons why the San Martin incident happened… but Shaunn won’t admit it.

    • Aaron,

      Since you made some seriously wrong assumptions, I have some questions for you.

      I’d like to see your personal generosity in action. We’ll see what that is in a moment. But first…

      You’re one of those who demand that working stiffs must pay ever more of our income to fund your pet cause — but apparently you won’t provide room and board for even one of the “homeless” you profess to care about.

      Instead, you want to force others to fund your particular charity of choice — and if they don’t agree, you label them “haters.”

      Let me explain something, Aaron: when peoples’ earned income is confiscated and then handed to people who won’t work, that is NOT “charity.”

      It’s more akin to forcing taxpayers to be indentured servants, since they must then earn enough to provide for their own families, plus provide for the folks who won’t work.

      Aaron, truth be told I’ve probably given a lot more than you have to help folks down on their luck. I have receipts showing I donated more than $10,000 to City Team Ministries (my personal charity of choice), in one recent year, and close to that in most other years.

      Here’s my question, Aaron: What’s your charity of choice? And how much did you give to it last year?

      And if you can’t afford to donate money, you can always donate your own time to Ms. Cartwright, she isn’t hard to find.

      How much of your own time have you donated to help the homeless, Aaron? Or do you spend your time instead calling people you know nothing about, “haters”?

      When you walk your talk, Aaron, then you can scold the folks who already pay through the nose to help the “homeless” — many of whom add to their taxpayer subsidies with cash they collect at busy intersections, from drivers coming home from work.

      If your only argument is ad hominem name-calling, it’s pretty clear that you are the real “hater”, Aaron.

      Finally, like many others here, I pay about half of my earned income in taxes. So I’d like to ask you a couple more questions:

      How much is enough?!

      How much would satisfy you, Aaron? Give us a number.

      Is taxing three-quarters of our income enough for you?

      Would 90% be enough for you?

      Or would you prefer to tax all of our earned income? Would you stop calling us “haters,” in return for all of it?

      Is that what you want? Then we could be on the dole too, because… why work?

  8. Why dont they just offer some garbage cans and trash servise likevthe bins the garbage truck picks up every week.
    It would save money and give a a moral uplift to the housless community.its an endless circle that will not stop.
    Im sure most would place their garbage in in a bin or dumpster it would start to help feel like part of a community . the way we live is a reflection of how we feel.and a mess and sleeping with garbage and rats just solidifies the confusion and chaos that is our everyday life.
    I live alnog the tracks at monterey and senter rd. We.were posted where do we go we have a 130lb german Shepard he keeps us safe. If you want to clean up give some garbagee bins and fire extinguishers

  9. Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? (James 2:5)

    For you have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat; for the breath of the ruthless is like a storm against a wall (Isaiah 25:4)

    And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20)

    @M.T GUNN
    Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker; he who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished.

    A righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge. (Proverbs 29:7)

    For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ (Deuteronomy 15:11)

    Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered. (Proverbs 21:13)

    Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4)

    Psalm 119:50
    This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life. (Psalm 119:50)

    Let all that you do be done in love. (1 Corinthians 16:14)

    REMINDER: I believe the news reported that the homeless community offered their help in assisting those whose homes were destroyed by the flood in 2017. Yes. Yes in fact they offered and they helped out. Oh my. So they are human?

    Mental Illness is a main factor within the homeless community. Drug abuse plays a major role in the lives of those with mental illnesses and eventually those with mental or developmental disabilities become addicts.

    Does anyone here have a degree in Alcohol and Drug Counseling?

    There are people within the homeless community who are indeed able to work and pay taxes. Unfortunately for their own reasons, just wont. Dont give up on them, just come back at a later time and try again.

    Many are young men and women who were in fostercare and forgotten when they became 18 years old. KEEP THOSE KIDS IN SCHOOL!! See them through college and graduate school.

    Those forgotten after their 18th birthday are ending up out here homeless. No one to show them how to earn a living or where to start. ITS DEEPER THAN THIS. Thats another discussion.

    Morals. Good morals. What do they value?

    You may not be able to help every homeless person out here but help those who want the help so bad that they help themselves to help you to help them. Dont waste your time on someone who lacks good morals and values nothing. Pray for them instead.

    If you cant beat em join em? No. How does the blind lead the blind solve anything? It doesn’t.

    Look at our Verterans. First we have Issues. Disagreements. Problems. Then we have a Solution. War. Violence. Problem is not solved. It never solved anything. The peoples votes. Yes he was elected based on majority of votes. Then He declares war. Soldiers leave they come home with many, many problems and some dont make it back at all. Those that do have got mental health issues that eventually go untreated, for most, thus they become homeless.

    You cant save everyone. So dont hurt yourselves in doing so. If you fail once, its ok, you may not fail on the next try.

    Truth is God is the Almighty. I have faith if we just put God first (not homefirst ?) in everything we do then we shall be successful.


      For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ (Deuteronomy 15:11)

      Oh boy.. Bible thumping. You want to play bible thumping? Because there’s a bible verse for any situation, how about:

      Galatians 6:7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.

      Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human Masters.

      Timothy 5:8 Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

      Genesis 2:15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

      Proverbs 12:11 Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense.

      Proverbs 12:24 Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in forced labor.

      Proverbs 13:4 A sluggard’s appetite is never filled, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.

      Proverbs 14:23 All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.

      Proverbs 19:15 Laziness brings on deep sleep, and the shiftless go hungry

      Proverbs 20:4 Sluggards do not plow in season; so at harvest time they look but find nothing.

      Proverbs 6:6 Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!

      Proverbs 26:15 A sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth.

      See? I can feel morally superior quoting bible verses too. So let me address some other parts of your comments there pal.

      Does anyone here have a degree in Alcohol and Drug Counseling?

      First off, Psychology is considered a “Psuedo Science” by real science. Sure, you can make some correlations about behavior, but is it 100% accurate 100% of the time? That’s what real science is. Hypothesis, experiment, control, and results that are repeatable by anyone. Psychology at best is a educated guess, and at worse is people that are so screwed up they turn to psychology to figure themselves out. I’ve known many people that went into the profession, and had some of the worse upbringings imaginable. I’ve known people that been abused by psychology. It’s a BS science.

      That being said though, taking a truly scientific approach, what works with addiction?

      #1. Removing the addict from any social co-dependency
      #2. Removing the addict from triggers that cause them to relapse into addiction.
      #3. Occupying the addict with things to replace those triggers and addictions. Gardening, basket weaving, etc.
      #4. Getting the addict to acknowledge their addiction.
      #5. Counseling said addict so they have the coping tools to not let their co-dependant buddies and triggers to cause a relapse when they’re released back into society.

      Generally this means shipping them away. Far away. Far away from their buddies, triggers, and dope dealers. Betty Ford Clinic’s are probably the most effective at this, and ALL of their treatment centers are in far away, secluded, tranquil settings.

      If you were dead serious about helping these people, this is what you would be looking to do for them. You wouldn’t be proposing something in San Jose proper, because that WILL NOT HELP THEM. They have to be removed for their own good. It’s not cruelty, it’s almost 100 years of addiction study. You know what “Dope sick” means? When someone is physically hurting from Heroin addiction? Sometimes those folks have to be handcuffed to a bed. It sucks, it’s not nice to watch, but sometimes it’s the only way to help them.

      The same thing goes for those with psychological trauma. When Agnews was built, there was NOTHING around it.

      The only benefit to having treatment in San Jose proper is for the staff to save them a long commute. So honestly, who are you interested in helping in San Jose by building a treatment center here? Because it IS NOT the addicts.



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