Op-Ed: San Jose City Council Owes Homeless People Better

Ronald Reagan ignored the AIDS epidemic. It took him six years and the death of almost 21,000 Americans before he ever said the word “AIDS” in public.

Last week, at the first San Jose City Council meeting to address the flood, after more than six hours, neither a single council member nor a city official said the word “homeless.”

Sure, there were several references to “vulnerable populations,” but it was fairly clear this was in reference to the Vietnamese and Latino populations impacted by the floods. Many of these folks are still in the shelters and repeatedly complained at the hearing about how sick and unsafe they felt.

Last year, we saw the homeless death rate nearly double from the prior year. One would expect the city to be sensitive to this fact, and provide outreach to the hundreds of folks who have been forced to live near the creeks due to unrelenting sweeps of homeless encampments. There’s also been a failure to adequately address the homelessness crisis by following through on ELI/VLI (extremely low-income and very low-income) policies.

The city knew a week in advance that flooding was likely and yet it didn’t properly warn its most vulnerable citizens. They put these people’s lives at risk by leaving them to be swept away like detritus. It’s fitting, that for a brief moment in time, the whole country focused on San Jose’s homeless population as people were being rescued from Las Lagos. The whole country saw our shame.

Even in light of the doubled death rate and the blatantly obvious abandonment of our homeless people during the flood, council members Johnny Khamis and Chappie Jones teamed up to try and take the Commercial Impact Fee off of the council’s list of priorities last week, because “developers have too many fees.” Let’s remember, Khamis frequently opposes housing for the homeless and rent control measures, and Jones supported the displacement of 672 residents living in 216 rent controlled units—which will not be replaced—at The Reserve Apartments. The eviction date is April 1.

There are a few champions of the homeless on the council. Raul Peralez, whose downtown district has the most encampments, has pushed to build more housing for the homeless. He’s tried to rally the community around the housing and I’m selfishly stoked to be living in District 3. Tam Nguyen went to Portland and spent the night in Right 2 Dream Too, a sanctioned encampment. Don Rocha has been a tireless champion for the homeless and he represented the city on the county’s Housing Task Force. Rocha’s persistence led the county to support sanctioned encampments and he brought the Commercial Impact Fee from that task force back to the city.

Even with these three champions, there are no current policies, provisions or plans to provide assistance to the homeless affected by the flood. They are the only group currently excluded from receiving relief funds. Many homeless folks were left with nothing but the clothes on their back.

Imagine losing everything you own—everything—and then having the entire city pretend you don’t exist. They won’t even talk about you.

Say their name. Homeless. Homeless people.

Shaunn Cartwright is an activist, housing rights advocate and co-founder of South Bay Tenants Union. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.


  1. where is the interest on 22 million mothballed coyote flood project< where is the scvwd reserves? there is 1/2 billion investments? what happened to DA, AUDITS SHOW US THE MONEY LINE BY LINE, SHOW US EVERY PC, PENCILS, SWAG( THEY HAVE CLOSET FULL) SHOW THE PUBLIC WHERE SCVWD DID PROJECTS IN LOS GATOS, LOS ALTOS, PALO ALTO, THOSE NAMES SOUND VERY RICH, go there and look and the landscaping, art to bridges, they ask, what do the poor get? oh and google scvwd audi 2012 it will show you how the top staff works and they wonder why not more lawsuits.

  2. Homeless people don’t pay taxes and don’t vote, kind of like illegal aliens, but that doesn’t stop our politicians from pandering to the latter. What do we hear about homeowners along the creek that were flooded out. It was their responsibility to clean the creek out!

    Kind of like 911 was the fault of those people that put the towers in the way of those airplanes.

  3. > Last week, at the first council meeting to address the flood, neither a single council member nor a city official said the word “homeless.”

    Good. We’re making progress here. Only a real estate broker would call such people “homeless”.

    They’re either mentally ill, or completely normal, completely functional nomadic foragers.

    Not everyone embraces or chooses to live in the private property based market economy. These are people who are simply living a paleolithic existence in a neolithic era. Probably the majority of humans on the planet today still live paleolithic existences to a greater or lesser degree.

  4. I agree some money should be donated to the homeless but I would prefer if it went to an agency that could distribute the items to those people. It is sad that many of the homeless on the streets have mental problems and our country does not have agencies that can work with the families and cities to help these people. We treat our pets better than we do some of these people. We pay taxes to the county and state for mental health services and we should be able to call 9-1-1 to have someone help them. I am not talking police here but trained people that can place them somewhere where they can be taken care of. Some of the homeless I see are both young and old with no shoes, clothing and you know they need help desperately. This is just my opinion and would appreciate it if some of the people who constantly write nasty things not give me your opinion on my comments.

    • Why should we have to put up with your opinion if you don’t respect or want to hear ours?
      Are you really that self centered?

    • We choose our pets. We decide to pay (or not) for their food, health and quality of life. We become responsible for their needs.

      The homeless folks you see out and about have plenty of help available to them, but it’s often shunned. They choose to live their lifestyle in the Bay Area. We do not choose to have them here, and it’s not my responsibility to care for them.

      If you don’t feed the pigeons, they’ll fly away.

      • You’re absolutely 100% correct. I couldn’t agree more. Why can’t politicians grasp this simple solution?

          • > homeless are from here,

            What does “from here” mean? They’re nomadic.

            Their “homes” are wherever they decide to curl up and snooze. THEY think this is normal.

            Why are you so judgmental about their hibernatory choices?

    • > This is just my opinion and would appreciate it if some of the people who constantly write nasty things not give me your opinion on my comments.

      I believe this is an “opinion forum”. It’s customary for people to post opinions here.

      If you DON’T want people writing “nasty things” about your opinions, and you want them to be passive, submissive, agreable lumps, I suggest you need to start your own church. And, if you DO start your own church, you get to be pope!

      • I would like to speak with you SJ Outside the Bubble regarding a project to place pictures from the Blue Tarp Project (bluetarpproject.come) and a TAKE THE QUIZ, Dispelling the Myths of San Jose’s Homeless poster to be placed in ALL of our the SJ libraries this Sept. Then during the week of Sept 20 -23 I’m taking sign ups for advocates and members of the Downtown Streets Team (homeless) to pair up and stand outside the libraries. My project is to build compassion and understanding by what our homeless really face when living on the streets. This will give someone a chance to speak with a homeless person. I need more than 24 advocates to cover our 24 libraries. If interested, please contact me.

  5. More Love,Light and Blessings flowing through out San Jose Always. People of the Universe we all must Unite Together as ONE PEOPLE. We are all of the human race. Rise up humanity love and respect each other. ONE LOVE.

    • The human being is the only species that coddles those who would otherwise be culled or ejected from the group for the benefit of the herd.

  6. Ms. Cartwright,

    “… yet it didn’t properly warn its most vulnerable citizens…”

    — If flood waters loom is the city obligated to scour the entirety of the threatened area just in case a wandering bum, or herd of resting bums, might be in harm’s way? I don’t think so, and any argument based on the city having prior knowledge of the location of bum encampments is made with the assumption that encampments are fixed (like addresses), that all bums live in encampments, and that these encampments of independent-minded individuals want or deserve custodial care. As for the title of “most vulnerable citizens,” I would argue that, given their superior mobility, bums are far less vulnerable to flood waters than are residents (some non-ambulatory) living in fixed structures.

    “The whole country saw our shame.”

    — So you think bums are our shame? Okay, then how much shame do we have today? Three thousand units? Forty-five hundred? What if a bum dies from a cut sustained while breaking into a car? Does our shame increase because of his death or actually drop a unit? What if every bum leaves for the welcoming streets of San Francisco, will our shame disappear or will we be shamed by having been abandoned? Your perspective is deranged. Shame on you for your insolence. Take your shame and shove it.

    “Say their name. Homeless. Homeless people.”

    — I’ve yet to hear advocates for the word “homeless” complain when the media finds a substitute word whenever a bum commits a crime. Thieving or violent “homeless” become “transients” or “squatters” or simply “residents,” except in the case when they do something truly abhorrent, such as the recent cross-county murder spree committed by three young “drifters.”

    Say their named. Unwanted. Lunatics, drug addicts, and bums unwanted here.

  7. > Say their name. Homeless. Homeless people.

    Paleolithic nomadic foragers. Paleolithic nomadic foragers.

    How am I doing?

  8. Umm-m… I almost never admit this because I feel it detracts from my personal actions to say it publicly. But I have a good reason to admit this now: I can produce receipts from non-government organizations that care for the homeless, which prove that I’ve donated well over $10,000 of my own money in various years, to help out local folks in real need (San Jose and Santa Clara indigents). And I am far from being wealthy.

    I’d like to see similar receipts from any local politicians. Because I get very tired of being told that I owe people more, unless the ones telling me have set a better example themselves.

    In case some folks don’t realize it yet, it’s not charity when politicians confisacate your money and hand it out to whatever group they think will make them look holier-than-thou. It is only charity when someone gives their own money voluntarily, with no quid-pro-quo asked or expected.

    So I would like to see how much genuine charity Tam Nguyen and Don Rocha have given. I want to see if they walk the walk—or if they’re just grandstanding over fake virtue. For that matter, I’d like to see how much the author has given, voluntarily, from his own wallet. It would make his finger-wagging easier to swallow.

    Opinion writer Shaunn Cartwright ends with: Say their name. Homeless. Homeless people.

    And I say: Say how much, Shawnn. How much have real charity have you given?

    ‘Put up or shut up’ comes to mind…

  9. > Say their name. Homeless. Homeless people.

    Maybe we could all learn something from how Senator Dianne Feinstein dealt with the homeless problem in San Francisco, or specifically, how she dealt with HER homeless problem:


    Senator Feinstein to Judge Gorsuch during the Gorsuch’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing:
    “How do we have confidence that you won’t just be for the big corporations?”
    Well. If you were Judge Gorsuch, how would YOU answer the trophy wife of “mega-millionaire”, Richard Blum?

  10. I hate to admit it but I’m on the side of you trolls on this one. I’ll go even one further. Here’s what I think the City of San Jose needs to do:

    1) Pass a ordinance outlawing vagrancy and camping on public property (or if such laws already exist, start enforcing them)
    2) Ship back all of the mentally competent vagrants back to the state where they came from. And make those states pay for it.
    3) Commit all of the mentally incompetent people to a mental institution.

    #1 and #2 are probably super controversial. But this business of handing out goods and services to perfectly competent people who come here to live off of some kind of collective guilt is idiotic. Jail them or commit them.

    And yes, #3 means spending more tax $$, but, I mean, come on! They can’t just live on the on-ramps. It’s inhumane.

    We should all be disgusted with the state of our parks and trails, despoiled by this permanent class of vagrants. The last time I went on the Guadalupe Trail, it was like strolling through a refugee camp. Filth and waste everywhere. Right through the heart of one of the richest areas of the country.

    • SJ1971,

      Troll here. You sound like the liberal who just got mugged. Now you see the light.

      My reply here isn’t about SJ residents who were displaced by the recent flood. It’s about your being…

      “…disgusted with the state of our parks and trails, despoiled by this permanent class of vagrants… like strolling through a refugee camp. Filth and waste everywhere.”

      I agree with your points #1, #2, and #3.

      Expanding on #2:

      The taxpayers who foot the bills for these encampments are permanent residents for the most part. We’re stable and stationary; we live here, we work here, and we pay taxes here. And we certainly do not want our electeds to waste our tax money attracting even more of the transients that congregate in those filthy encampments down by the river. Most of them are there because of the freebies they receive (freebies for them, but costly for us working stiffs).

      Many, if not most of those “homeless” end up here because like any similar group, they know where the best deals are. Word gets around. When a local government hands out more cash and benefits than another local gov’t does, people on the dole drift over to where the handouts are better. They’re not stupid; they’re just ‘homeless’. And many if not most of them aren’t from San Jose.

      As mentioned upthread, if you want pigeons, throw out bird seed; if you want homeless, hand out more taxpayer loot than other cities and counties in NorCal. Simples, no?

      Why can’t the local electeds and “housing rights activists” understand that über-simple concept?? You get what you pay for.

      In fact, they do understand it. But they hope that by grandstanding at taxpayer expense, they might get a few more votes. (So remember how they’re wasting our money next election. Their names are in the article.)

      The answer is not to pay for more vagrants. The only sensible answer is to STOP rewarding them with more money and other benefits than they can get elsewhere! Maybe provide a hot meal once a day, but no more than that. But do not hand out our tax money to a crowd of unaccountable transients! *Sheesh!* Get a clue, electeds!

      Finally, roust those illegal encampments! Tell them to MovOn. They’ll move to places that pay them better. We get rid of the problem, and they get more freebies elsewhere. It’s a Win-Win!

      If other cities want to waste their taxpayers’ money attracting vagrants, that’s their business. But we need to elect smarter representatives here. Giving out our money to buy a crowd of homeless vagrants is pretty stupid, no? So stop it!

      Don’t want a big homeless population? Then don’t pay for one!

      Problem solved. Really.

      • > Tell them to MovOn. They’ll move to places that pay them better. We get rid of the problem, and they get more freebies elsewhere.

        Mr. Smokey:

        Your problem is that you’re a prisoner of Socratic rationality. You believe that the nomadic foragers will be motivated to move only if the Socratic objective reality is that other venues will ACTUALLY “pay them better”.

        Sophists understand that the nomadic foragers only have to BELIEVE that there is better swag over the hill. The definition of Sophistic truth is “what the majority believes to be true”. Therefore, no money is needed to motivate forager decampment; only a better narrative that the foragers find believable. Tell ’em Berkeley has better swag.

    • I grew up here I’m homeless I’m a disabled veteran, going blind, were should I go,$350.00 per month is what I get ,try living on that if it wasn’t for military training I wouldn’t be able to survive, I gave my all and this is how im treated ,give people some respect you don’t know there story,we don’t choose to be homeless ,things just happened, someone else’s greed got to were I’m at today. Respect at least give us that

      • Lots of issues here.

        First of all, where is the VA? I assume this didn’t just happen. We just had eight years of Obama who was going to help people like you, plus Congressional advocates like Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, Mike Honda, etc. etc. All missing in action.

        Second, if your disability was service related, you should be getting a lot more than $350. If it isn’t service related, you should be getting SSI, and my understanding that Asian grandmothers who never paid into the system but who were brought here by their Asian anchor babies get a LOT more than $350.

        And although I was against it, the outrageous Measure A sham promised help for veterans. Where is it?
        Answer: the lying bastards lied again.

  11. Gilbert, there is a veteran center for emergency housing on 10 Kirk Ave.San Jose, CA 95127(Phone number
    (408) 533-0226) in Alum Rock area. Please go there for help. They will give you a place to stay. I went there and have donated food to them. It is really a nice place for the veterans like you.

    Where are the homeless staying now since they got kicked out of the jungle area. I like to know where they are at now so I can come and help.

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