Homeless, advocates protest lack of protections in Silicon Valley shelters
Kristine Gardner Ramsey, a San José Spotlight columnist who was unhoused for nine years before finding housing a year ago, is pictured in this file photo. Photo by Rachel Leven.

More than a dozen homeless advocates and unsheltered individuals protested at a rally in San Jose on Friday against Santa Clara County’s approach to protecting unhoused people from the novel coronavirus.

The county is pushing unhoused individuals into shelters instead of the safer option of sheltering them in hotel and motel rooms, protestors said. It also isn’t making public where the virus is spreading, making it harder for homeless individuals and advocates out in the encampments to protect themselves, they said.

“If we don’t know where we’re going is a hot spot (for COVID-19), we are all in danger,” said Shaunn Cartwright, a homeless advocate with the Unhoused Response Group, which delivers to encampments information about coronavirus and supplies to prevent the spread of the virus.

The protest, attended by approximately 15 people, shows increasing tensions between the unsheltered community and Santa Clara County. Unhoused people have said they don’t hear from the county while volunteers have stepped into key roles, like distributing masks.

The county didn’t respond to emails from San José Spotlight requesting comment on Friday. Instead, officials sent out a news release answering some of them later the same day. The release said 35 unhoused individuals have tested positive and all are in hotel rooms or other temporary housing. To date, the county has placed 236 homeless residents in hotels or motels, has secured 453 rooms total and has placed an additional 277 homeless individuals in shelters, according to the county.

“The county needs to do everything it can to support and protect unhoused residents during this historically difficult time,” said Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese in the release. “We continue to work to expand screening, testing and housing options on a daily basis.”

Protesters were organized by the Unhoused Response Group, Sleeping Bags for the Homeless, Affordable Housing Network, CHAM Deliverance Ministry, Villages of Hope SiIicon Valley, Sunnyvale Clients Collaborative, Second Street Voices and Serve the People San Jose.

The group drove in 10 cars around Plaza de Cesar Chavez and two emergency shelters, beeping horns and holding signs like “First they came for the homeless.”

Homeless advocates and unsheltered individuals said they were especially worried about the use of shelters instead of hotel and motel rooms in light of a COVID-19 outbreak at one of San Francisco’s largest shelters, where at least 92 people have fallen sick. San Francisco has since announced it will rent 8,000 hotel rooms for unsheltered people, according to reports.

Alex Lee, a Democratic candidate for the Assembly District 25 seat and an Unhoused Response Group volunteer, said no other city or county is providing a better model of how to house unsheltered individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think San Jose and Santa Clara County at large has the opportunity to do so,” Lee said. “Hopefully, we can be the first to step up.”

Contact Rachel Leven at [email protected] or follow @rachelpleven on Twitter.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Winter Faith Collaborative was not a participant at the protest. A previous version listed the group as an organizer due to inaccurate information provided to San José Spotlight.

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