Bramson: Stepping up or getting out of the way
The entrance of the "Jurassic Park" homeless encampment in San Jose is pictured in this file photo.

In a recent 2021 poll by the Bay Area Council, homelessness dominated the concerns of most residents in our region. Raise your hand if you’re surprised. The fact is we all see the tragic impacts of people forced to sleep outside and it’s truly horrifying.

Human beings living and dying along our highways and creeks. Abject poverty and suffering that shouldn’t exist in a place of such wealth and innovation. And on the heels of a global pandemic that’s pushed many folks to the brink, it seems like it’s just going to get worse as we move ahead.

That’s why when the California governor proposed $12 billion in May from the unprecedented surplus to address the state’s homelessness crisis, the collective response was it’s about damn time (and it probably still isn’t enough).

His proposal – the single largest fiscal commitment to homelessness in the history of California – includes billions of dollars to expand the successful HomeKey initiative, which focuses on the acquisition and rehabilitation of hotels, motels and other parcels of land for the purpose of immediate interim and permanent housing solutions.

It also includes significant funding to end family homelessness in five years, build more permanent housing and shelters, and add new rental subsidies to keep people safe and stable for years to come.

While nothing is settled yet, and there’s still time to see what shakes out from the legislature budget process, the bottom line is that more funds for much-needed, lifesaving work should be on the way soon. And on top of all that, the American Rescue Plan is still going to provide tens of millions of dollars from the federal government for our lowest income earners in aid to be distributed right here at home to try and fight off what would otherwise be an eviction tsunami.

For Santa Clara County, that’s good news. Locally, our supportive housing system has housed more than 14,000 people in the last five years, prevented nearly 2,500 families from becoming homeless and funded 34 developments with more than 3,500 homes for our community’s most vulnerable neighbors.

Over the past 12 months, San Jose, Milpitas, Mountain View, and the county of Santa Clara also went all in, leading California with the use of one-time funds to purchase several hotels and motels, create modular interim housing communities and provide direct financial assistance to the people who need it the most.

All that said, we’re not out of the woods by a long shot. There is considerable funding still needed here and despite the outstanding work of big city mayors – including our own Mayor Sam Liccardo – to secure some of the money for local jurisdictions, most of the dollars coming out of the state in the new budget are going to be highly competitive across California.

With the end of the eviction moratoria looming, too, we know we need to act fast to make the best possible use of every penny available to keep people housed. Last year, our government agencies – specifically the San Jose Housing Department and Santa Clara County Office of Supportive Housing – proved that they were poised to act effectively and decisively to make the best use of these resources, but we’ll need more of that type exemplary work going forward.

That’s where we all come in.

The intent of all of this money is for it to go out quickly and get to work immediately in ending and preventing homelessness. So that means the odds are in the next several months there’s going to be opportunities to house and help people in neighborhoods across Santa Clara County.

With all of this work designed to go fast, we’ll need neighbor associations and businesses groups ready to support these options now and without delay, we’ll need elected leaders pushing for more policies to protect vulnerable families and to get new sites, programs and initiatives going despite opposition, we’ll need landlords open to working with tenants to avoid evictions at all costs and we’ll need more direct support for the nonprofit organizations tasked to carry this massive endeavor as we move forward.

To seize this moment, we’ll need every single person together shouting from the rooftops that we want to keep our community housed and we’re ready to welcome our most vulnerable neighbors home. We all say this our top concern. It’s time to act like it.

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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