It has been more than one year since the first tenants, including me, moved into the county’s first permanent supportive housing project, Second Street Studios in downtown San Jose. What has changed? I can answer that in three words: Not a thing.
Let me start at the beginning. On May 7, 2019, we got keys to their new homes — a 400 square foot studio apartment. We were 150 of the most vulnerable homeless people in the county, so they say. We had just spent the last eight months playing musical hotels, having to move from one to another every two weeks. Now finally, some stability, we thought.
That first day was so nerve-wracking.
Being told what we could and could not bring into our new home—not being able to touch anything that belonged to us—watching strangers rummage through our belongings for contaminating agents. It was very degrading to stay in the apartment and wait for our things to be brought to us. We waited for hours to find more than half of our belongings had been taken by the same people there to help us move in. The living conditions here were not suitable for everyone. They were not good for anyone.
For this place to be built, the community wanted certain things to be done: a community garden, a full clinic, including mental health services, to name a few.
To convince the tenants to move here, the developer and the county promised certain amenities. Even the brochure had included amenities that would justify charging market value — for example, dishwashers, kitchen garbage disposals, a workout room and others. One year later, not a single one has come to be.
There is no clinic, no dishwashers, no garbage disposal system, no gym and a “community” garden is closed to the community. There are more rules, more cameras and now even surveillance with audio for management to watch their every move. The biggest letdown and lie to date, however, is the services.
We have been set up for failure, it seems, and one year later we have racked up more than 500 police and medical calls at Second Street Studios. We’ve had four preventable deaths, more than ten fires and four people who have lost their housing altogether.
All of this could have been prevented or significantly reduced. It is a no-brainer that services are the deciding factor between success or failure. I’m here to tell you, services failed us from the beginning.
The company supplying services at Second Street Studios has an excellent reputation. Some of the services that were promised were mental health services, one-on-one case management, job skill training and basic life skills training for those who need it.
If the service provider fulfilled these essential needs, four good people would still be housed here. You might have seen a much lower number in the tragedies I mentioned before. A majority of the tenants at Second Street Studios believed that all they needed was a little help from those services to become respectable and productive people in society. The tenants strongly agree with all the points I’ve mentioned here.
Second Street Studios has been neglected by all involved, and so have the human beings inside it.
Is there enough time to rectify and right the wrong done here at Second Street Studios? Some people say there is. I can name four who would disagree.
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.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article contained the incorrect author name.