Sandoval: Looking back and ahead at how our elected leaders approach homelessness
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and Mayor-elect Matt Mahan serve Thanksgiving dinner to residents of PATH’s Evans Lane community. Photo courtesy of PATH.

    Last month, I popped into the community room at Vela, East San Jose’s newest affordable housing community developed by Affirmed Housing, to find dozens of residents laughing over a friendly game of Blank Slate.

    The residents waved when they saw me—welcoming me, a stranger, to join them. They chatted warmly about their first days in their new home and reflected upon the warmth and kindness of their new neighbors. One resident had left her keys in the lock overnight, but her neighbor knocked on her door to alert her. Another resident shared a homemade meal with a neighbor when he had extra. These neighborly moments are happening each day.

    Witnessing the ease and friendliness between them, it was hard to imagine that just days before, many of them had been homeless. What an immediate difference a safe home can make. With the high cost of living and rising housing costs, we know how desperately more safe, affordable homes are needed. Seeing the immediate quality of life improvements that housing makes and the community support for such developments assures me that we are moving in the right direction.

    The work to end homelessness takes all of us: service providers, elected officials, government, the business community and activated neighbors. It takes political courage to say yes to more housing, yes to interim housing and yes to funding more services.

    PATH Santa Clara County has helped more than 450 people move into stable, affordable homes since we began our work in 2015, and that is in part because of the support of elected officials and local government. As the year comes to an end and we all take a moment of celebration and transition, PATH can’t help but reflect on the impact of two dedicated leaders in particular: Councilmember Raul Peralez and Mayor Sam Liccardo. Without their support, organizations like PATH would be far less effective in our charge to end homelessness.

    As their terms come to an end, we at PATH thank them for their service, look back on where it all started and look ahead to continuing this work with newly elected officials in the region.

    PATH met Councilmember Peralez in 2015 when we began our first outreach program in downtown San Jose. He was genuinely interested in getting to know his unhoused constituents and hearing their stories. He joined our outreach teams in the field—surveying the parks and river to meet people on their own terms. He developed personal relationships that lived beyond his time with PATH in the field, even joining move-in celebrations as PATH’s earliest participants found housing.

    During his final months in office, he met with PATH resident leaders as they shared a series of recommendations to improve our systems of care, based on their lived experience. He takes his knowledge of housing insecurity to individual conversations, community meetings and council meetings, showing both humility and leadership to address this complex issue. Throughout his time in office, he championed the causes of all types of housing solutions that would empower the city’s most vulnerable.

    Mayor Liccardo, too, has exemplified collaborative leadership throughout his time in office. Most recently, he expanded upon the success of emergency interim housing solutions through the addition of new emergency interim housing resources to address the immediate need for 5,000 San Jose residents who sleep without shelter each night.

    He has pushed for these solutions because he has seen firsthand how the homelessness crisis is playing out in our region. In the very early hours of a cold morning in February, Mayor Liccardo joined our PATH team to conduct surveys for the 2022 Point-In-Time Count. Seeing the mayor take part in this annual survey with our PATH team members demonstrated a deep commitment to understanding what life is truly like for our unhoused neighbors.

    Mayor Liccardo also deeply cares on a personal level, which we witnessed during this recent round of holidays that included a Thanksgiving meal at Vela. In addition to that, he also made sure PATH families at the Evans Lane interim housing site could celebrate. He picked up the phone and found community leaders willing to cater and fund a holiday celebration. Thanks to his bringing together the community, we also are grateful to Peter and Susanna Pau, Shepherd & Sims and Nirvana Soul for providing 100 holiday meals, coffees and gifts. We were heartened that Mayor-elect Matt Mahan joined him, met with our families and affirmed his commitment to ending homelessness in San Jose.

    Though her time in office is not yet concluded, I would also be remiss not to mention Councilmember Dev Davis, who graciously hosted holiday and Halloween celebrations at Evans Lane this year. PATH is grateful that there will be continuity of this thoughtful and compassionate leadership on the council as new members take office.

    We are hopeful this spirit of collaboration will continue with our newly elected officials. We are encouraged by our early conversations with individuals like Mayor-elect Mahan, when they express commitment to supporting interim housing and building more affordable housing. We look forward to more fruitful relationships with San Jose’s incoming elected leaders.

    Our leaders know that homelessness is a policy choice—not a personal choice—and this shared understanding will help us focus our efforts and systems of care on ending homelessness in people’s lives. With the new year comes new relationships with our elected leaders, new partnerships, new challenges and new opportunities to come together as a community to lift each other up.

    San José Spotlight columnist Laura Sandoval is a regional director 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 every other month. Contact Laura at [email protected]

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