“We cannot take the action of one person and judge the entire unhoused community on the actions of that one person, because being unhoused isn’t just a physical issue, it's a mental one as well and we need to address that,” said James Chaney, one of the surviving victims of the horrific event on Sunday, Nov. 22.
As advocates for the unhoused, we completely agree with James.
We mourn all the victims, pray for the wounded and incarcerated, express our solidarity with the unhoused, and assert our determination to continue serving those in need in the San Jose and Santa Clara County communities.
Advocates have been warning local officials for years about the inadequacy of housing, shelter, addiction and mental health treatment for our lowest income residents.
It is a miracle that more violence has not erupted from the neglect and intolerable conditions that so many of our houseless neighbors are forced to live in. It is particularly unnecessary and unacceptable for such unspeakable squalor to exist here in Silicon Valley, the richest area in the entire world.
There are 10,000 unhoused people in Santa Clara County competing for access to two emergency shelters for singles, one for families, 10 detox beds, and reduced services due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Most restroom access has been closed, as have places to rest, charge cellphones and use electronics.
For every homeless person housed here, two or three new people become homeless, and the pandemic evictions are expected to make the situation much, much worse.
We’re already seeing the beginnings of this with camps growing larger from week to week. In 2020, an unhoused person dies every other day on the streets of Santa Clara County—and most are people of color.
Our housing system is broken and not sustainable.
Our elected officials have spent decades treating the unhoused community with benign neglect unless there’s a crisis or it’s campaign season.
Well, campaign season just ended and here we are in an entirely avoidable crisis and an unhoused man will finally be housed—in jail. Meanwhile, three other people are still in the hospital and two are awaiting burial.
The incident at Grace Baptist is exactly that, an incident.
It is not an indicator that all unhoused people are violent, on drugs or mentally ill. It is not an indicator that something like this will happen again where unhoused people congregate. It is a tragedy that likely could have been averted had there been better services for our unhoused neighbors.
This week temperatures will drop into the 30s and the only large emergency shelter is at the South Hall. We are dumbfounded by the lack of humanity and simple life saving steps taken by the city of San Jose and County of Santa Clara.
We call on our city, our county, and our nation to change their priorities, and begin adopting policies that value human life above special interests. We call for the creation of more rehab beds and mental health facilities, temporary shelters and navigation centers, sanctioned encampments, and much more.
The lives of unhoused people matter. Providing them the basic resources to reinforce that doesn’t seem like much to ask. Does it?
This column was co-authored by Sandy Perry of the Affordable Housing Network of Silicon Valley, Shaunn Cartwright of the Unhoused Response Group, Rev. Jethroe Moore of the San Jose-Silicon Valley NAACP, Pastor Scott Wagers of CHAM Deliverance Ministry, RJ Ramsay of Second Street Voices and Jamie Foberg of In Their Shoes. Opinions are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].