Silicon Valley leaders ask for help solving the ‘poverty pandemic’
Homeless residents line up during a food and clothing drive at St. James Park in downtown San Jose. File photo.

Santa Clara County elected officials, business and faith leaders are asking the community to help low-income people hit hardest by the pandemic.

Through the new United Against the Poverty Pandemic coalition, formed during the pandemic by Brett Bymaster, executive director of Healing Grove Health Center, the group is working to find solutions for low-income families struggling with job loss and paying rent.

The coalition, which includes the city of San Jose, Health Grove Health Center, Cathedral of Faith, work2future, Westgate Church, Cicuro and CityTeam, announced a goal of raising $1 million in private funds before Jan. 31 for rent relief and to fund a work program.

Mayor Sam Liccardo said Dec. 7 there is a growing divide between those who are able to survive living in Silicon Valley and those who are struggling to keep their heads above water.

“This pandemic has widened that chasm and government can’t do it alone,” he said.

According to Liccardo, the city’s food distribution operations have handed out more than 2.5 million meals a week to families in need and committed more than $22 million in federal funding for struggling families through the Silicon Valley Strong Initiative. However, the mayor said this is just a drop in the bucket of what is needed.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Susan Ellenberg said local governments should extend loans to small businesses and provide financial support to low-income communities asked to stay home from work, especially those who test positive for COVID-19.

Ellenberg said she and Supervisor Cindy Chavez will propose extending and improving the isolation quarantine support program, which offers motel rooms for people who test positive for COVID-19 and cannot safely isolate at home, in addition to providing groceries, cleaning supplies, rent and other financial support.

She also recommends expanding partnerships with community-based organizations to support struggling residents and businesses.

Bymaster said a recent phone survey showed more than 14,600 county families, including 30,000 children, are at risk of becoming homeless when the state’s eviction moratorium expires Jan. 31.

“We expect a wave of homelessness when the eviction moratorium expires,” he said. “But we have the resources in Santa Clara County to do something about this. Let’s unite together to make a difference.”

The United Against the Poverty Pandemic coalition has provided more than 450,000 pounds of food to those who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 and $900,000 in financial aid through private donations and partnering with nonprofits. Now it’s working to provide $1.7 million in financial aid, employment and food aid by Dec. 31.

COVID-19 has especially affected low-income communities. At the Healing Grove clinic, Bymaster said the positivity rate among low-income Latinos was 28%, compared with the county average of 4.7%. The clinic has provided about 2,500 COVID-19 tests for low income-patients and treated 900 clients for COVID-19. 

Councilmember Maya Esparza, who represents the hardest hit ZIP codes in the county, said COVID-19’s resulting economic hardships hit low-income minority communities the hardest, in addition to disproportionately infecting and killing more Latinos. 

“People are getting sick and dying at much higher rates than the rest of the city and county,” Esparza said.

COVID-19 also stripped low-income jobs in hospitality, construction, services, trade and transportation. Bymaster said people working in these sectors saw their average annual income drop from $27,566 a year to $11,402 after the pandemic. 

According to the coalition, about 36,200 Santa Clara County households have unpaid rent debt totaling $117 million. This debt could be erased, he said, if the 160,000 families in Santa Clara County who earn more than $200,000 a year donated $730 each.

“Each of us has a role to play. I hope you will be with us pushing together against this poverty pandemic,” Liccardo said.

To help the coalition, visit this website.

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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