Caiella and Hopson: Measure E spending plan should support homeless families
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo helps kick off the Measure E campaign. Photo by Carina Woudenberg.

Take a moment to think back on your childhood. Did you ever have to worry about moving from place to place? Was there ever a moment when you did not have a room with a bed to sleep in every night? Could you count on breakfast, lunch and dinner at the table every day? For children experiencing homelessness, the sad reality is they cannot rely on such simple basics, and their parents are often stressed beyond measure.

On March 3, San Jose residents took a significant step forward to address our community’s homelessness crisis by voting for Measure E, a new property transfer tax on the sale of properties assessed at $2 million dollars and above. Now, the City Council must follow through with an effective plan to spend up to $73 million in additional funding annually.

This plan should increase prevention efforts and affordable supportive housing options for families and children.

According to the 2019 San Jose Homeless Census and Survey, San Jose’s homeless population has grown by an incredible 40% to over 6,000 people. Families represent 33% of this population and this number may be significantly undercounted. The criteria for homelessness used in this survey excludes families who are couch surfing, doubling up with other households or staying in hotels and motels. These are parents and children in our community who’ve lost their homes due to hard blows like a job loss, rent increase or health emergency.

Children are often the silent and powerless voices of this crisis. At this vulnerable stage in life, even a temporary episode of homelessness poses a major risk to their development. Research indicates homeless children suffer toxic amounts of stress, making them three times more likely to develop emotional and behavioral problems compared to non-homeless children.

The instability from sleeping in a car or a temporary shelter can lead to lower cognitive functioning and difficulty focusing in school. And by the age of 12 years, 83% of children experiencing homelessness have been exposed to at least one serious violent incident, according to the National Center on Family Homelessness.

As of today, only two temporary shelters in San Jose are dedicated to families, which means parents and children may face long waitlists for limited services. Some permanent supportive housing developments are opening in San Jose, such as Villas on the Park, but they serve adult individuals.

The Measure E plan should expand investment in proven solutions, specifically prevention services and permanent affordable housing focused on homeless families and children. The good news is, plenty of research shows the housing-first model, which has been adopted by San Jose leaders, is successful in improving long term outcomes for homeless people and the surrounding community. Now’s the time to double down on efforts for families and children.

According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, preventing at-risk families from becoming homeless in the first place will save significant costs in the long run, not to mention incalculable suffering. Services such as rent subsidies, job assistance, legal support and mental health counseling can help keep families together in their existing homes.

According to Destination: Home, between 2017 and 2019, 1,338 households at imminent risk of homelessness in Santa Clara County received prevention services. Of those families, 95% remained stably housed while receiving services, and only 8% actually became homeless one year after the program. And based on a comprehensive cost analysis of Silicon Valley over the last six years, such prevention services can save a whopping $46,706 per individual annually, mainly through reduced health care treatment and criminal justice expenses.

When the unfortunate event of homelessness does occur, families need access to rapid rehousing resources and services. Measure E funds could increase available permanent housing options and access to services like affordable child care, job placement and parenting education.

For example, the existing Family Supportive Housing Center in San Jose offers effective resources such as school aftercare for children, financial literacy education for parents and employment services. Studies show these methods are effective, however this center can only accommodate 180 families per year on a temporary basis — well short of meeting the needs of this growing population.

As a concerned community member, you have the power to ensure the City Council spends our tax dollars effectively to protect the most vulnerable among us — children of families at imminent risk or already experiencing homelessness. You can write, call or show up to your councilmember’s office to hold them accountable for spending Measure E funds wisely.

San Jose resident Lauren Caiella is a Masters student of social work, a human resources business leader and mother of two. Jasmine Hopson, is also a Masters student of social work and a mental health care worker.

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