Homeless encampment
A homeless encampment along a Highway 101 on-ramp at Story Road is pictured in this file photo. File photo.

    More than 6,000 people last year were homeless in San Jose — a number that keeps rising amid the coronavirus outbreak— prompting city leaders to set a goal of housing 20,000 people and doubling the number of shelter beds within the next five years.

    The San Jose City Council voted unanimously Aug. 25  to endorse the Community Plan to End Homelessness 2020-2025 that was released Aug. 13 by a consortium of agencies. The plan, also endorsed by the Board of Supervisors the same night, focuses on preventing homelessness, promoting racial equity and improving quality of life for unsheltered residents.

    This is the city’s second go-around at “ending” or, more realistically, reducing homelessness. Five years ago, the council adopted the Community Plan to End Homelessness in Santa Clara County 2015-2020 which helped shelter more than 14,000 people, according to Ray Bramson, chief operating officer of Destination: Home, an organization that works closely with the Santa Clara County Office of Supportive Housing.

    But some lawmakers expressed concerns that the plan will make a difference.

    “I’ve been in office for seven and a half years and we’ve had plan after plan after plan and it feels like really, we haven’t moved the dime very far,” said Councilmember Johnny Khamis.

    The city, county and various nonprofit organizations will continue to brainstorm how best to help residents facing economic and housing hardships. Khamis proposed the city buy apartments as part of the plan to shelter San Jose residents rather than approving new construction projects that could take years to complete.

    “We need to actually engage people in the real estate investment community so that we can get  real business solutions at the table.” Khamis said.

    Councilmember Dev Davis agreed but said the city should still recognize the enormous progress made since 2015.

    “There’s still a belief in the community that as they see the number of homeless people grow and become more visible that we’re not doing anything,” Davis said. “We should be more inclusive about including the business community and I would say the residents as well in talking about this issue.”

    Some residents wanted to know what happens when individuals refuse help?

    “We need to look at all the reasons why people are resisting help,” Khamis said, adding mental health conditions or a desire to live freely can contribute to an individual’s reluctance to seek or accept aid.

    Jacky Morales-Ferrand, director of the city’s housing department, said San Jose has been using outreach teams to build relationships with unsheltered individuals who have mental illness. Once those relationships were built, they would help direct residents to services and housing.

    “Those efforts have been fairly successful,” Morales-Ferrand said. “So we’re looking at expanding those.”

    According to city data, 85 percent of people experiencing  homelessness in 2019 did not have shelter. A study from Jan. 2020 found Blacks disproportionately represented the homeless population in Santa Clara County. While they comprise 2.5 percent of the general population, they make up almost 17 percent of the homeless population. Those who identify as Hispanic or Latinx comprise 43.7 percent of the homeless population and only 27 percent of the general population.

    “Humanity is important and recognizing everyone’s humanity is important,” Davis said. “I hope that we will continue that. I really appreciate all the work that has gone into it and I look forward to continuing to drill down and get more specifics on this.”

    Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.

    Editor’s Note: Jennifer Loving, executive director of Destination: Home, serves on San José Spotlight’s Board of Directors.

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