Sandoval: Reflections on homelessness, complex realities and simple truths  
Laura Sandoval and PATH Santa Clara team members gather to prepare units for move-in at Villas at 4th Street in San Jose on June 23, 2023. Photo courtesy of PATH.

    Over the last two years, it’s been an honor to connect with San José Spotlight readers on the critical issue of housing. This column has been a collective effort of many PATH colleagues equally committed to highlighting a diverse range of topics that intersect with homelessness—racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights and structural causes of this crisis, to name a few.

    These columns have shared stories of people who’ve experienced homelessness, and provided updates on new programs, initiatives and housing sites PATH has opened. Through it all, our message has been simple: homes end homelessness. Solutions are all-too-often politicized, but we must come together as a community and focus on what works.

    In many discussions around homelessness, well-intended solutions oftentimes boil down to assumptions on mental health challenges and substance use. The subtext is that homelessness is a personal failure and thus, people don’t deserve housing if they can’t attain and maintain it on their own.

    However, this simplified explanation is untrue.

    Last year, a thoroughly researched book was published titled, “Homelessness is a Housing Problem: How Structural Factors Explain U.S. Patterns.” The authors analyzed data to understand the systemic causes that lead to so many Americans becoming unhoused. As the title clearly states, the determining factor is the lack of affordable housing. This reality intersects with other factors of course: low wages, institutionalized racism, the cost of health care, loss of relationships and trauma.

    The reason homelessness in California is so pronounced—30% of the nation’s unhoused population is in California—is because we haven’t built enough housing that people can afford.

    A new study called the “California Statewide Study of People Experiencing Homelessness,” conducted by UCSF, is the largest representative study of homelessness in the United States in the last 30 years. The study provides a comprehensive look at the causes and impacts of homelessness in California and recommends policy changes. The conclusions confirmed what we have known all along, “high housing costs and low income left participants vulnerable to homelessness.”

    That is why as an organization dedicated to ending homelessness for individuals, families and communities, we focus on housing.

    At PATH, we believe housing is a human right. We believe that everyone deserves a place to call home. We base our service model on those values, and we advocate for policy changes that bring housing and resources to our most vulnerable.

    The programs and resources to get people into housing—outreach, case management, shelters, interim housing—are all vital steps, but helping someone move into a stable home of their own is always the goal.

    Of course, we must address unsheltered homelessness. There should be alternatives to encampments that bring more people indoors, but not at the expense of building affordable housing. Recently, San Jose grappled with this through its budget process, as Measure E funds were proposed to be redirected largely to interim housing. This would have diverted funding from affordable housing projects, stalling developments already underway. We are grateful for the San Jose City Council’s resolve to continue investments in more permanent housing, the only long-term solution that truly ends homelessness.

    In Santa Clara County more broadly, we must keep the focus on bringing more affordable housing to all neighborhoods. Thanks to Measure A, we have a dedicated funding stream, and we are already seeing the impact. PATH Ventures, the affordable housing development arm of PATH, is excited to welcome new neighbors to Villas at 4th Street, a 94-unit permanent supportive housing site in San Jose with a mix of studio and one-bedroom units. This community received Measure A funds and all units will be paired with onsite services residents need to be healthy, stable and to thrive.

    The people who move into PATH communities like Villas at 4th Street are already our neighbors. The UCSF study showed 90% of unhoused Californians became unhoused here, so they are people from our community, more often seniors and people of color.

    Our policies have created the crisis we are in. Policies also can turn the tide. While it is easy to think of homelessness as the result of an individual’s choices, when rents are so high and wages are so low, it is truly a collective choice that is pricing people out of their basic human right to housing.

    It is my hope that you have learned more about the complexities of homelessness, but maintain the focus on the simple solution of more housing that people can afford. Thank you for taking the time to read my columns and thank you to San José Spotlight for amplifying our work. We are all in this together and I thank you for believing in, investing in and supporting PATH’s mission.

    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. Contact Laura at [email protected].

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