Last year, the city of San Jose’s point-in-time count, a federally mandated count of the area’s homeless population, showed that homelessness spiked 42% in the last two years. Today, for every one person we house, three more become homeless. On any given day, there are more than 5,000 residents living on our city’s streets, however, there are only 1,200 shelter beds throughout Santa Clara County.
While San Jose, specifically the downtown area, is leading in implementing solutions to homelessness, the numbers show that countywide we are failing our unhoused residents and our community at large. The crisis we now face creates a strain on our city resources, damages our natural waterways and ecosystems, and victimizes the chronically homeless. This certainly reinforces the urgency to continue supporting and implementing long term solutions, but we need a more comprehensive and collaborative approach. We will fall short if we continue to operate how we have been: in silos.
Inspired by the framework and success of San Jose’s nationally recognized Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force (MGPTF), my office has advocated for a homeless task force since 2017, envisioning a multifaceted, long term collaborative group of stakeholders committed to ending homelessness.
In 1991, in response to growing gang violence in the city and its direct impact on our youth, former Mayor Susan Hammer established the MGPTF by bringing together the San Jose Police Department, the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Neighborhood Services, city and county elected officials, the county District Attorney, Public Defender and Chief Probation Officer, the county Office of Education and a range of community-based organizations, faith leaders, community members, and impacted youth.
Mayor Hammer had the foresight to recognize the importance of collaboration and that is the mindset we should have when addressing homelessness. Currently, despite a common acceptance as a crisis, our city and county have failed to effectively work together and engage community partners to address homelessness countywide.
Developing a long term Homeless Task Force is the crucial step needed to tackle the issue of homelessness in our community.
It has been a long road trying to establish this task force, and with a budget approved action in 2018, our City Manager’s Office has since been working tirelessly to do so, yet we see agencies continuing to work in silos. I have worked in collaboration with Destination: Home and city and county staff to advance a task force in conjunction with the update to the Community Plan to End Homelessness, but unfortunately, recent efforts have stalled with county staff.
Interdisciplinary, interagency and intergovernmental action is required to effectively respond to this crisis. A Homeless Task Force would provide an opportunity for experts across departments and agencies to convene, develop policies and review programs and practices in a public forum that would, most importantly, offer accountability. It would ensure that the initiatives we embark on successfully serve homeless residents and our entire community.
In the spirit of collaboration between government agencies, I supported Supervisor Dave Cortese’s call for a Homeless Task Force at the county Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, and urged the board to expand the proposal from a short-term effort focused on temporary housing solutions into one committed to ending homelessness.
As the councilmember representing the area of the county with the highest concentration of homelessness, I have made this my number one priority and I volunteered to serve on this task force as a city representative.
There must be a space that leverages all of our expertise to solve homelessness. I will continue to advocate for the establishment of a long-term task force and I will continue to look for opportunities to expand participation to all relevant stakeholders. As the biggest issue our city and county are facing, a coordinated effort is needed now more than ever.
Raul Peralez is a San Jose councilmember first elected in 2014 to represent District 3, which spans downtown San Jose.