A rendering of the Evans Lane housing community. Photo courtesy of PATH San Jose.
A rendering of the Evans Lane housing community. Photo courtesy of PATH San Jose.

    This past year, Americans have learned to lead very different lives in the era of COVID.

    While these adjustments range from annoying to upending, I recognize that, for me personally, these changes have not jeopardized my future security or happiness. Yet during my nine months at People Assisting The Homeless (PATH), I have heard the stories of hundreds of people whose lives have been significantly and forever altered because of the pandemic.

    I hear these stories largely due to my role overseeing the launch of Evans Lane—PATH’s newest housing service that will provide bridge housing for families experiencing homelessness. This housing program will serve as a waystation for families in their journeys out of homelessness and into permanent housing.

    Crafted out of a partnership between the city of San Jose and Abode Services, Evans Lane is one part of the city’s effort to create safe and dignified shelter options for the more than 6,000 unsheltered people living in our city. Unlike most traditional shelters in which large spaces are converted into shared living environments, Evans Lane is constructed differently. As a tiny homes community, each family is assigned their own private cabin, a safe space where they can cherish the intimacy of family life.

    We are scheduled to move in our first families in early May and our teams of essential workers have been hard at work for months, deployed across San Jose to serve over 50 families who have been referred to our program. All of these families are especially vulnerable during the pandemic—they have a family member with an underlying health condition that makes having a safe place to shelter in place essential for their family’s well-being. Many of them have also lost jobs as a result of the pandemic.

    Our team meets with referred families, often daily, in support of their immediate needs until we launch Evans Lane. Through our staff, I am learning how COVID has impacted almost every aspect of these families’ lives—their finances, health, safety, family and homes. Each story is unique and frightening.

    Skilled specialists have been furloughed from jobs they love, forcing them to re-evaluate their career paths as the pandemic drags on. Recently unemployed renters are choosing between keeping their housing or maintaining their credit. Families shuffling their household composition, deciding if it’s better to stay together in a shelter or to scatter across couches throughout the county. Parents of children with pre-existing conditions, frightened to stay in congregate shelters and contemplating if it’s safer to hide from the public in an encampment. Assault survivors living in the same shelter as their aggressors, but staying for the sake of their children.

    For these families, the scars from the past 13 months won’t heal quickly.

    Yet in learning these stories, I also see incredible strength. The families we meet put in a full day’s work, then hop on a series of busses to view an apartment on the other side of town, before making it back to a shelter where they vigilantly monitor their children’s progress in their remote education. In spite of such adversity, they show true leadership, modeling hope and optimism for their families, and to me. I am inspired by the power of the human spirit.

    When Evans Lane staff welcomes our first families in the coming days, we will be a team that celebrates and nurtures this resiliency. Within our community, families will find respite from the traumas of homelessness where they can begin their healing process.

    Once they move onsite, families will be supported by a multi-disciplinary team of service providers. Each family will be paired with a case manager who works in partnership with families to develop individualized housing plans focused on strategizing how to find safe, affordable and permanent housing solutions.

    More staff will facilitate regular community workshops aimed to support their successful transition on topics ranging from health and wellness to essential life skills and family services. A team of specialists will provide focused services for health, housing and employment. Each family’s experience will be unique and individually designed to their own preferences and needs, allowing families to determine what services will best support their housing stability once they move into their forever homes.

    We know Evans Lane is not the permanent solution to end homelessness, but it’s an essential piece of the puzzle. If we do our work well, families will not stay with us long. Once equipped with a range of new skills and resources, they will soon find their own homes and launch into the next chapter of their lives.

    The traumas of the past year will not erase immediately once they move into their homes. But our hope is that, for the brief time we worked together at PATH, each family will recharge in a peaceful and nurturing environment, and leave with confidence that they will persevere and thrive in whatever comes next.

    San José Spotlight columnist Laura Sandoval is the director of programs at PATH San Jose, a homeless services and housing development agency. She is also a licensed clinical social worker with over a decade of experience. Her columns appear every fourth Monday of the month. Contact Laura at [email protected]

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