A seated woman with her back facing the camera.
Los Gatos resident Shelly receives rent and bill relief from other town residents to help support herself. Photo by Annalise Freimarck.

Los Gatos resident Shelly never thought she would struggle to make rent. But following a series of family tragedies and the loss of her job, she’s unsure how to keep a roof over herself and her dog Buddy.

“Having a nervous breakdown, it messes with your mind. When you have things happening like this, not having anybody to pay for rent or food or gas, you just sit there like, ‘What am I gonna do?” she told San José Spotlight, tearing up.

Shelly, in her 50s, who asked to only use her first name to protect her privacy, is scraping by in Los Gatos where homelessness prevention services run solely by the town — such as rent assistance — do not exist. It’s up to the community to fill that gap.

Shelly’s life began unraveling after her boyfriend died unexpectedly about five years ago. She was a full-time caregiver for his daughter and depended on his financial support.  The daughter, who was comatose for 11 years after a car crash, died shortly after him. Shelly struggled over the last few years with the additional deaths of her best friend and his son, her parents, brother and father-in-law, which triggered a mental health crisis that led to losing her new job.

She received help, including groceries and financial assistance, from parishioners at St. Vincent de Paul at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception and homelessness and hunger nonprofit West Valley Community Services.

“I was just so shocked that these people could come in and they could just ask me a few questions and say, ‘Yes, we’ll help you,'” Shelly said. “(They) don’t even know what that means to me.”

Los Gatos supports nonprofits’ efforts to provide rent relief. The town gives $15,000 a year to West Valley Community Services, where it refers people seeking one-time emergency assistance, but also relies on faith and community leaders to help out.

Councilmember Maria Ristow said the small town “could never” offer rent relief because of its budget constraints, but works with nonprofits. Ristow said even though Los Gatos may seem like an affluent community from the outside, residents like Shelly, who pays about half the average rent, are struggling.

“I think the more affluent (the) community is, anybody who’s on the margin is more likely to fall right off that cliff,” Ristow told San José Spotlight.

Roughly 35% of Los Gatos residents rent, with an average payment of $3,252, according to data from the town and Zillow. That’s 13% higher than San Jose and 55% higher than the national average.

Sue Ahmadian, president of St. Vincent de Paul at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, said she often gets calls from residents who can’t get assistance or have run out of aid at other nonprofits — and sometimes refers residents to nonprofits when her church can’t help. The church allocated nearly $10,000 in donations to emergency assistance in the first three months of this year, including helping Shelly with two months of rent and her cell phone bill.

“The people who are renting, if they go through (a) hospitalization, an injury or a layoff, or their work hours get cut, that could send them into financial insecurity to the point where they can’t make their rent,” Ahmadian told San José Spotlight. “By the time they’ve gotten that solved, the next month is right there again.”

Sue Ahmadian, president of the Los Gatos St. Vincent de Paul at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, and Vincentian Tim O'Rorke stand in front of their church.
Sue Ahmadian, president of the Los Gatos St. Vincent de Paul at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, and Vincentian Tim O’Rorke. They help run the church’s emergency assistance program, which provides services such as rent relief to Los Gatos residents. Photo by Annalise Freimarck.

Nonprofits such as the Los Gatos Anti-Racism Coalition (LGARC) are also stepping up. Jeff Suzuki, president and founding member of the LGARC, said the nonprofit has raised more than $25,000 for emergency rental assistance since it started taking donations last June, with roughly half of the funds going to Los Gatos residents. The nonprofit gives up to $500 in one-time help to residents who have received an eviction notice, are unemployed or have experienced a pay reduction, been hit with an unexpected bill or seen their rent increased.

A town spokesperson declined to comment on LGARC’s efforts because it doesn’t have information on how the relief has worked in the community.

Suzuki said he wished the town would do more to help its struggling residents so LGARC wouldn’t have to provide rent relief.

“Right now it is on the shoulders of these community members and people who just decided to do the right thing, when this is really a systemic problem that has to be dealt with systemic solutions,” Suzuki told San José Spotlight.

While the town lacks direct rental assistance, officials have made moves to help some residents struggling with homelessness. The Los Gatos Town Council allocated $60,000 in March to maintain homeless services such as its hotel program, which temporarily houses a select group of homeless residents during cold and rainy weather.

Shelly said she eventually hopes to pay the help she received forward, but she’s still financially insecure. She doesn’t know how she will pay rent this month because she is still unemployed, despite searching for a job every day, and wishes the town would help more. She doesn’t want to leave her home.

“It is a high-end place to live,” she told San José Spotlight.“But everyone should be able to live.”

Contact Annalise Freimarck at [email protected] or follow @annalise_ellen on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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