Bramson: A warm light in the winter chill
Homeless advocate Richard Scott at an encampment on the Guadalupe River Creek trail in February 2022. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

    With a winter storm rolling in on this bleak December night, it’s easy to start thinking about all that has continued to go wrong in 2022.

    Set against a backdrop of a looming recession, you can look out across the Silicon Valley and see a place where there just aren’t enough affordable homes, wages are too low, and the rent is still too damn high for hard working families, seniors, and so many others in need. Enduring inequities and abject despair are the fallout of this collective failure, and we see more people forced onto the streets everyday as a result.

    But there’s also some reason not to give in to the tale of woe told by the wind and rain. And in the spirit of the season, I’d like to give thanks for those beacons of light with the holiday wish that many more will be lit in 2023.

    Even in the most unlikely of places, we have seen a palpable recognition that people need a place to call home. As part of a collaborative effort with the county of Santa Clara’s Office of Supportive Housing, Los Altos approved its first-ever 100% affordable housing development in September. The 88 new homes – half of which are dedicated to families with extremely low incomes – are a significant step in showing that even in one of the most unaffordable jurisdictions in the country, it’s still possible to make this type of housing happen. And with unanimous council support and virtually no opposition from local residents, it felt like there really was recognition of the absolute necessity to move this development forward.

    In the work of actually increasing equity for all, community organizations, government agencies and philanthropic partners came together to launch a new guaranteed income project last month. With a focus on the residents in the neighborhoods of East San Jose, 150 Santa Clara County families who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness will receive $1,000 a month in no-strings-attached income for the next two years. UCSF Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative will evaluate the collaborative effort with the goal to prove that this sort of flexible support can help participants achieve housing stability as well as greater independence over their lives, finances and future.

    Even in terms of policy, we’ve seen some movement towards more social justice for housing.

    After years of work, the San Jose City Council finally adopted an Affordable Housing Siting Policy. The stated purpose of this policy is “to expand affordable housing choices through equitable development that reduces disparities in housing options among neighborhoods and continues to build integrated, vibrant, and healthy communities.” But what makes this approval so important is that the final product actually reflected the fierce advocacy efforts of the Race Equity Action Leadership (REAL) Coalition, a group of local leaders dedicated to pushing for using an equity lens to guide decision-making. Going forward and thanks to this hard work by REAL, the policy will begin the heavy lifting of undoing historical red-lining and opening new affordable doors throughout San Jose.

    All of this is not to say that New Year looks bright. We have divided governments, broken systems, under-resourced partners, and all too many people that just say no, not here, not now when it comes to figuring out solutions for the poorest folks among us. But there is some hope. And as a poet once said, hope is a thing with feathers. Perhaps that will be at least a start to lift us up in 2023.

    San José Spotlight columnist Ray Bramson is the Chief Impact Officer at Destination: Home, a nonprofit that works to end homelessness in Silicon Valley. His columns appear every second Monday of the month. Contact Ray at [email protected] or follow @rbramson on Twitter.

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