Martin: Second Street Studios in San Jose changed my life
First Community Housing's Second Street Studios in San Jose is pictured in June when 150 homeless residents moved in.

Moving in was as happy a time as I can remember after what seemed like a lifetime of struggle and pain.

Almost four months later, every day I think about how much this has changed my life and feel thankful. Being a Permanent Supportive Housing community, Second Street Studios is a home to me but also a place where my physical and mental health service needs are met by trained on-site staff that has, in many ways, become an integral part of our new community. Bringing this kind of solution to homelessness to San Jose and Santa Clara County calls for a celebration. To that end, we are very excited to celebrate along with neighbors and elected officials this Friday at the Second Street Studios Grand Opening celebration.

A cause for celebration in our community is our newfound voice — something we were stripped of when we first lost our homes along with our dignity in the eyes of those that judged us. We always wanted to have a voice and help others with it, and while this is nearly impossible to do out in the camps, we had promised ourselves we’d make it happen once we were housed. This is how we are following through on that promise: This voice we found, we intend to use. A few months back, we formed and have been very active in the Second Street Voices tenant advocacy group.

In May of this year, I signed a lease agreement before moving into Second Street Studios. When I signed the lease, I made a promise to follow all the rules within. As of today, I have been successful in keeping this promise. I do not currently have, nor have I ever had any lease violations. I’m current on my rent (yes, we pay rent), and I try to be a part of community activities and events where I meet many neighbors who have made the same choices.

It goes without saying that we possess the right to ask our local elected officials to keep their promises to not only build housing (including extremely low-income housing, in addition to PSH) as they are doing (slowly as they might), but to provide much-needed relief to our sisters and brothers still out in the streets getting swept, dispossessed and killed every single day. We also expect to be part of important conversations with all Second Street Studios stakeholders — including Abode Services (services), The John Stewart Company (property management) and First Community Housing (owner/developer).

It is not unreasonable for us to ask of them the same accountability that they ask of us — even if it is to discuss why some of their promises may no longer be feasible.

A number of amenities which can be very beneficial to our efforts toward building a healthy and complete community were promised as the building was first pitched to future residents. As I moved in, I noticed those amenities were nowhere to be found and as time has gone by, the efforts to make them happen have been slow or nonexistent.

The most pressing issue is a dog park, which could go a long way toward building community and avoiding conflict between owners with big dogs and those with small dogs, not to mention conflicts caused by dogs that have no place to urinate or defecate and have to do so anywhere at all — causing their owners to get lease violations. Additionally, if we use the park across the street, it creates issues with our outside neighbors as there are no poop bags available.

Another amenity that was promised is a gym, which would be helpful for residents by way of encouraging physical activity which, as we know, results in improved mental health outcomes, less opportunity for boredom and builds community.

There are many more matters of this nature, and I ask that residents be part of conversations where we discuss the future of this community and how these can be addressed.

As I end this piece, I can imagine some are thinking I seem ungrateful and maybe even self-important. These assessments are wrong, I’m grateful but also self-aware. The life-saving turn of events that led me here to Second Street Studios has also reminded me that I’m worth it and powerful, and I intend to correct the record on that.

Cecilia Martin is a resident at the newly-opened Second Street Studios Permanent Supportive Housing community in Downtown San Jose and a leader in Second Street Voices tenant’s advocacy group. Before living in Second Street Studios, Martin spent years on the streets of San Jose.

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