Should Santa Clara County Fairgrounds be used for homeless housing?
A view of the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds as officials prepare for the county fair. Some residents say the land should be used for homeless housing. Photo by Kyle Martin.

As homelessness worsens throughout the Bay Area, one Willow Glen resident is planning to soon bring 1,000 signatures to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors from petitioners demanding transitional housing for homeless people on the county fairgrounds.

“Most people want to do something, we just don’t know what we can actually do to make a difference,” De Anna Mirzadegan, the author of the petition, told San José Spotlight. “I think that the county really needs to step up and address that people are living on the streets.”

By Friday evening, Mirzadegan’s petition had more than 740 signatures. Her petition asks for tents, showers, toilets, access to sanitation, garbage disposal services, mental and medical health services and a “safe living space for women.” Pet care and the possibility of tiny homes on-site are also mentioned in the petition.

“I’m just a person that’s fed up listening to everybody blame everybody else, and everybody loves to complain about things, but nobody does anything,” Mirzadegan said. “That’s the only thing that I could think to do.”

The county fairgrounds land is currently being prepared for the upcoming 75th annual summer fair from Aug. 1 to Aug. 4. When it’s not fair season, the 150 acres of land owned by the Fairgrounds Management Corporation hosts events such as music festivals and weddings. But the petition’s author thinks the grounds could be better used to get homeless people off the sidewalks.

“At those fairgrounds, there’s plenty of room,” Mirzadegan said. “It’s underutilized, there’s homeless people all around the fairgrounds.”

While speculation swirls that county officials won’t support such a proposal, the county’s Office of Public Affairs offered an invitation to petitioners and others who want to be heard on the issue.

“We look forward to receiving the views of those signing the petition, and will consider those views alongside those of other stakeholders and community members,” Laurel Anderson, the office’s interim communications director, said in a statement.

San Jose resident Laura Pino-Saso signed the petition, hoping to move the homeless housing conversation forward.

“I decided to sign it because I feel that nothing is being done, and we need to do something on a big scale,” Pino-Saso, 53, said. “It may not be perfect, but at least we’re going to try something, and I think that’s why I signed it.”

She said “there’s a lot of fighting and blame” when it comes to housing homeless people throughout the county and it’s not productive. “This shouldn’t be our reality,” Pino-Saso added. “This is crazy. This is absolutely what we are seeing.”

But not everyone agrees that homeless housing is the best use of the fairgrounds land. Having worked in city government and homeless housing advocacy, Frank Ponciano said the county’s fairgrounds has potential to be a productive transitional housing site, but he would rather see those services pop up somewhere else.

Ponciano thinks the site is too far from neighborhoods and would isolate homeless individuals — that’s why Ponciano doesn’t support the petition enough yet to sign it.

“I think it has the right goal in mind,” Ponciano said. “I actually happen to agree with the fact that there is a lot of space in the county fairgrounds that could be used for either shelter, a sanctioned encampment, or other forms of affordable housing, for sure. There’s also space in other neighborhoods that could be used for the same purpose.”

But he added that the petition advocates for creating “shelter and housing away from neighborhoods” and homeless people should need to live among other residents.

Willow Glen residents had a chance to welcome homeless people, he said, but they opposed the relocation of the now-closed homeless encampment, Hope Village. And now, residents want to relocate homeless people instead to “places that are not designed for residential living,” like the county’s fairgrounds.

“The most important thing is that we highlight that there is a group of people that wants to deal with homelessness by putting people away so they don’t have to see them when they go to the park, or when they’re on their trails or whatever it could be,” Ponciano said. “That’s just not the right approach.”

Contact Kyle Martin at kylebmartin96@gmail.com or follow him @Kyle_Martin35 on Twitter.

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