Editorial: San Jose mayor needs to go all-in on addressing homelessness
San Jose City Hall is pictured in this file photo.

    San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan began his first term with an optimistic lens on resolving homelessness in the city. Eight months later his position has hardened.

    The mayor has confronted reality in a city where 89% of the population wants the homeless problem to disappear. Solutions are not happening fast enough for Mahan. After homeless people frightened students at a public charter school on the east side of town, he reversed his position on bringing hundreds of temporary homes online before codifying a loosely-applied rule that prohibits homeless people and their RVs within 150 feet of most city preschools, day cares and K-12 schools.

    He wants results fast, but there’s no magic wand to make this decadeslong situation vanish. He’s taking a visible problem and moving it 150 feet. That’s not a solution—that’s a Band-Aid.

    Mahan has the right idea getting those interim homes online. But after that, the system unravels due to the lack of coordination between the city, Santa Clara County, service providers and the state. The 2020 state auditor’s report said California’s “uncoordinated approach to addressing homelessness has hampered the effectiveness of its efforts” in resolving homelessness.

    So what’s the answer? For starters, Mahan needs to accept that homelessness has many faces. It can be the result of a job loss, domestic violence, addiction, mental health, getting caught up in the criminal justice system or being evicted due to unaffordable rent. The latter is the predominant reason people are now on the streets or living in their RVs.

    No one said being mayor of a city where more than 6,000 people have no place to call home would be easy.

    That means the No. 1 priority must be getting those houses online. Next, we need to find a path from temporary to permanent housing, and that requires various agencies to assess next steps. This is where Mahan, who touts himself as a tech savvy logistics guy, needs to show us what he’s got.

    Mahan needs to create a war room on the 18th floor of San Jose City Hall and bring in people who understand how to handle a humanitarian crisis. He needs people who understand how to navigate a broken system and get results, because that’s how heartbreaking and abysmal this situation has become.

    It’s going to require innovative thinking. The mayor can’t get caught up in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s basket of ideas and potential initiatives, which include carving out millions from the Mental Health Services Act for homeless housing and a bond measure for 10,000 beds. Mahan appeared to channel the governor when he tried to grab Measure E funds to build housing for the homeless. His efforts failed. The city’s construction of affordable housing is critical to reducing homelessness.

    Mahan should put his business hat back on, apply that Silicon Valley entrepreneurial approach he claims to own and toss bureaucracy to the side. He said throughout his campaign he would bring a fresh approach to governing. He would shake things up. He would be a change agent.

    Here is your chance, Mr. Mayor, to show the city that status quo governing is not your style. Develop a cohesive approach to reducing homelessness with the right people and programs. Start with housing, channel the programs through a funnel so it doesn’t become engulfed in an entangled web and tackle homelessness with a steady hand.

    It’s going to be hell, but if you can turn it around, you’ll not only get yourself reelected—you will put San Jose on the national map.

    Moryt Milo is San José Spotlight’s editorial advisor. Contact Moryt at  or follow her at @morytmilo on Twitter. Catch up on her monthly editorials here.

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