Blind and homeless: 93-year-old Sunnyvale man faces uncertainty
Mir Sayed, 93, faces homelessness and is currently living in a motel room. He's visually impaired and hearing impaired. Photo courtesy of Pratima Gupta.

    A transistor radio, a portable analog device with an antenna, is Mir Sayed’s connection to the world.

    The 93-year-old lives in a motel room in Sunnyvale and spends his days listening to his radio. He’s visually impaired, suffering from glaucoma and cataracts, and is hearing-impaired. Sayed’s housing situation is unstable and part of the longstanding issue of unhoused seniors in Silicon Valley, advocates said.

    Helping Hands Silicon Valley co-founder Pratima Gupta said she met Sayed a little less than two months ago, when a motel manager saw he only had money for one night’s stay and asked the community organization to help. Sayed’s current stay is booked until Jan. 26, but funds are running out, she said, and a motel room is not a permanent housing solution. Helping Hands Silicon Valley is a nonprofit that serves homeless and low-income residents, mainly in Sunnyvale.

    Gupta said Sayed’s visual and auditory impairments prevent him from being placed in a shelter, where residents need to be able to independently care for themselves. Nobody knows how long he’s been moving from motel to motel, she added.

    “We understand that anybody can be in (his) position tomorrow,” Gupta told San José Spotlight. “The condition that Mr. Sayed is in… it could be anybody’s grandfather.”

    Building trust with Sayed took time, she said, and much of his past remains a mystery. But there are several details she’s garnered over weeks of conversation: Sayed has no family and is originally from Pakistan. He writes his own sonnets and limericks, she said, and has several diaries. He’s a fan of green tea and believes in sleeping four hours a night.

    “I went and just sat with him and talked to him, told him a little about myself,” Gupta told San José Spotlight. “I wish I had known him earlier.”

    Homeless advocate and Unhoused Response Group co-founder Shaunn Cartwright said Sunnyvale needs to step up to help residents, especially seniors like Sayed.

    “People are dying in Sunnyvale,” Cartwright told San José Spotlight. “The fact that we have people like Mr. Sayed on the streets, it’s just a complete and total failure of the whole system.”

    A total of 246 homeless residents died last year, and of that number, 146 were seniors. Recent data shows Santa Clara County has more than 10,000 homeless residents. County data reveals that while Sunnyvale counted 624 homeless residents in 2019 and 385 homeless residents in 2022, less than a third of those residents are sheltered.

    Sunnyvale needs more services and shelters geared toward homeless seniors and disabled residents, Cartwright said. The city has no reliable warming center, she added. Resources are crucial as unhoused residents endure lowering temperatures. San Jose’s homeless residents living near creeks had minutes to pack to avoid floods from this week’s atmospheric river storm.

    Councilmember Alysa Cisneros said Sunnyvale refers homeless residents to organizations and shelters in the area, but more needs to be done. Cisneros said addressing homelessness needs to include conversations on affordable housing for families from different income levels, as well as providing immediate services, including warming centers and other forms of shelter.

    “We do have a responsibility. My mom was unhoused for five years,” Cisneros told San José Spotlight. “In Sunnyvale, housing insecurity is a massive problem: it’s no secret.”

    Sunnyvale homeless advocate Rose Gregorio said Sayed is less than one month away from living on the streets. The registered nurse said she’s only known Sayed since Christmas, but helped set up a GoFundMe fundraiser so he has some form of financial support to pay for his future hotel stays as long as possible. She visits him every few days to drop off his favorite meal: a Burger King burger and onion rings.

    “I’ve seen a lot, but nothing has prepared me to see Mr. Sayed,” Gregorio told San José Spotlight. “I’m hoping that people will do more… (He’s) 93 years old, deaf and blind. You cannot survive.”

    Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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