Eckhart: People with lived experience can help end homelessness
First Community Housing's Second Street Studios in San Jose. File photo.

You may have noticed that I have been away for a short period.

And during my time away recovering from a mishap, I was able to take a little time to look at how we as a community act toward the homeless population.

I recognize some neighborhoods reach out and I’ve seen groups of people and specific organizations that go above and beyond what is asked of them.

But there is still a lot of work to be done if we as a region want to reach our goal of ending homelessness, as laid out in the county’s five-year plan. The three areas that are crucial to achieve these goals are: Policy reform, community engagement and accountability.

Policies and procedures have to change. The methods we use today are failing. Reform is crucial. Community engagement and involvement can be accomplished by working with people who have lived experience and show an interest in community change. We can create more community focus groups and work with construction unions to push for more low and very low-income housing. We need to start building trust with these organizations. The same is true for local government.

The accountability piece is, in my opinion, the most important. The way services are being applied to homeless population must be checked and improved. Providers are getting away with not providing the services they promised.

This is another area where we need involvement from people with lived experience.

The more individuals with lived experience we hire for these new service provider jobs being created, while paying them a living wage, and focusing on the points above, the more we can decrease the homeless population. That’s a win-win for both the community and people experiencing homelessness.

Michael Eckhart is part of a group of current and formerly homeless columnists writing for San José Spotlight’s In Your Backyard column to shine a light on the homeless experience in Silicon Valley.

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