As the giving season approaches, I find myself thinking about the curious custom of gift wrapping. Going way back to ancient China where paper was first invented, putting presents in packages for others has been going on for centuries. There’s both a psychological and tangible effect about containing an object and creating a sense of ownership that seems to matter for a variety of reasons in our culture.
We’re taught early on to want to have things of our own. Material possessions, for better or worse, give us some level of certainty and comfort. Having a car means you can get to work, having a house means you know at least one place where the door will always be open.
For those experiencing homelessness, which comes from some combination of trauma, poverty and social injustice, the loss of housing deprives them of almost everything. With nearly three-quarters of the population unsheltered in Santa Clara County, this means that while an underpass or creekside encampment might be a site for sleeping one night, a place of permanency is just a dream for so many.
That said, despite notions to the contrary, so many of the folks living outside in our community are already home, even though we often treat them like strangers in a strange land. According to the 2019 Homeless Census, 81% of them lost their housing while living right here in the county.
If we can accept that the vast majority of these people are our neighbors who are either struggling with disabilities, dealing with financial emergencies, living on fixed incomes or recovering from some other catastrophic life event, it makes sense to provide whatever we can, right? The affordable housing, emergency financial assistance, or hand up really is the best choice to make sure everyone in our community is safe, stable, and housed.
So, in the spirit of the holidays, I ask you to consider a few gifts for the rapidly approaching new year:
Saying YES! to more housing – Since voters approved Measure A in 2016, 21 new housing developments and more than 2,000 apartments have been funded. But that means to fulfil the 10-year goal of the bond, we still have 99 more developments to go. In every city of the county, we will be seeing new housing come before neighborhood associations, planning commissions and councils for consideration. Having a strong, united voice that demands approvals and even more opportunities to create housing will be critical to sustaining the momentum of the past couple of years.
Giving what you can to those making a difference – Locally, there are dozens of nonprofits working hard to help the most vulnerable members in our community. They need resources – from cash to volunteers – to keep up with the ever-growing demand. Figuring out what you can do to help as an individual, family or business will mean a real difference not just for the organization, but also for the youth, families and adults that they serve.
Supporting leaders and policies committed to change – With elections on the way and a number of important items on the upcoming ballots, we must find ways to raise up the people and initiatives that will bring more resources to the work and more political will to get the job done. Creating more housing and services for the poorest people needs to remain a central focus and we need to elect champions and pass measures that will continue to carry us all forward.
2020 offers much promise, but it’s going to take a lot of effort from everyone if we want to end the suffering of so many. As the saying goes, the more we give, the more we receive.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @rbramson on Twitter.