Shaw: The homelessness problem needs more than a temporary solution
Dozens of RVs parked near Columbus Park in San Jose are waiting to be moved into a safe parking site. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    It still feels like we’re kicking the can down the road when it comes to the homelessness problem. Or at least it feels like we’re trying to place bandages over a gaping wound.

    There has been progress toward acknowledging the problem and presenting solutions over the past several years, which is a huge improvement. The tiny home trend continues, along with Project Homekey programs. But these are quick-build and renovation solutions for interim housing, when permanent housing is needed. Residents will continue to oppose any type of homeless housing in their communities, whether interim or permanent, with the usual complaints of drug and alcohol abuse and mental illness being their reasons for objecting.

    I would hope communities come together and press local governments to create addiction treatment centers and quality mental health facilities with the same focused energy. Because the large nonprofits running the homeless facilities don’t want to do it. When they list the services they provide, they don’t have a medical component attached. Whether it’s offering therapy, counseling, support groups or some mental health evaluation.

    Put psychiatrists and therapists on the payroll and ensure every facility is visited regularly. Especially if the homeless individuals go from a communal encampment environment to a tiny home or hotel program that doesn’t allow visitors.

    At least San Jose is making some progress concerning housing. The city has the green light to build tens of thousands of homes in North San Jose, with a portion of those designated as affordable. Affordable is a tricky word, but let’s take it as low-income, very low-income and severely low-income. It will be a great thing when it is complete, but construction takes a long time.

    San Jose also has thresholds and incentives for developers to place different levels of affordable housing within their complexes, along with a revamped in-lieu fee structure that will hopefully encourage developers to choose the “placement within the complex” option. These strategies may help provide some affordable housing, but don’t touch the “homeless with nowhere to go” problem.

    Tiny homes do their part, and more are slated to pop up, but again those are interim solutions. I hope more prefab supportive housing complexes, like the one located at Branham Lane and Monterey Road, are coming in the near future. Supposedly they’re cheaper than traditional development projects.

    Until then it’s the path of shelters, converted hotels and quick-build solutions to permanent housing. But sometimes I look at statistics reported by nonprofits and local governments about the number of individuals who have received permanent housing year over year, and wonder where all this permanent housing is coming from. If there are available homes, how are they available? Is the former occupant now homeless?

    It’s just something I can’t wrap my head around. I know there aren’t enough homes available to house every person holding a housing voucher in the county. And low-income housing is scarce, so it’s nearly impossible to find housing if you’re homeless.

    Despite knowing there isn’t an adequate number of beds available at treatment facilities, on top of a lack of housing, nonprofits have once again reinstated a time limit for staying at shelters and other facilities. HomeFirst has implemented a 120-day policy and Abode has informed residents at the Plaza Hotel of something similar. That basically pushes individuals back onto the streets if they haven’t secured housing.

    Permanent supportive housing and rapid rehousing take a big chunk of placements, leaving little supply for individuals not in those programs. Everyone is aware of this, and implementing stay limits seems nonsensical, especially when programs aren’t offered within these environments. Where are people supposed to go? To another shelter to increase turnover numbers, when it’s not really turnover because that person is still in a shelter? Or to the streets where they may end up using substances, have a mental breakdown, get abused or raped? It’s all frustrating, especially since organizations are always expressing a commitment to end homelessness, while pulling stunts like this.

    I recognize the good that organizations have done to address homelessness, within their own parameters. But the lack of urgency to create permanent housing, substance abuse centers and mental health facilities are glaring omissions when presenting solutions.

    Homelessness is a gaping wound in need of treatment, but I guess the solution is a bandage, for now.

    Jerome Shaw is an unhoused advocate residing at the Plaza Hotel run by Abode. He is a neurodivergent individual who seeks to ensure people remain aware of the importance of mental health and mental health treatment in today’s society. Shaw is part of a group of homeless columnists writing for San José Spotlight’s In Your Backyard column to shine a light on the homeless experience in Silicon Valley. Contact Jerome at [email protected].
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