Man looking out of a window.
Michael Morand is a member of the now-disbanded Survivors of the Streets committee, which used to be hosted at Sacred Heart. Photo by Joyce Chu.

A homeless support group in San Jose is closing down, and members are unsure about whether they will be able to continue their work.

Sacred Heart Community Service shuttered its homelessness organizing committee, Survivors of the Streets (SOS), and let go of the group’s organizer, citing dwindling resources. This loss comes at a pivotal moment when various programs are getting off the ground. The program launched in 2019.

Michael Morand, one of the founding members of SOS, said the disbandment is frustrating. He had been spearheading a landscaping and beautification program with San Jose that could give jobs to homeless individuals. He said the committee had just begun gaining momentum when Sacred Heart announced it would be ending.

“For us personally as a group, it was a big loss,” Morand told San José Spotlight. “As far as the impact it would have on the city and/or the county, it’s hard to determine… We came up with some great ideas and had some good things going, so the impact could be huge.”

Demone Carter, Sacred Heart’s director of community engagement, said some funding programs that began during the COVID pandemic will sunset soon and private donors have been pulling back on funding. In 2021, the nonprofit received more than $49 million in unrestricted revenue. In 2022 it increased to more than $54 million, but dropped to $44 million in 2023.

“We’re always looking at ways to streamline (and) reallocate resources in the way that we feel will best serve our mission and vision, and this was one of those tough decisions,” Carter told San José Spotlight.

He added that the group’s biggest expenditure was paying the sole employee, Derrick Sanderlin, as other committee members were volunteers.

Carter said SOS members have been invited into other committees in Sacred Heart, such as the Sacred Heart Housing Action Committee and Race, Equity and Community Safety committee. But he doesn’t know of anyone from SOS who has joined another committee.

Before being disbanded, SOS had been working with the city and the county on a few programs, such as the landscaping program, Sanderlin said.

Sanderlin said he believes the homeless and formerly homeless committee members will continue trying to organize, without Sacred Heart’s support.

“There are other groups that can offer perspective to the city, but what I really think SOS provides is the opportunity… not just inform city leaders but actually push on them and make demands,” Sanderlin told San José Spotlight.

Morand said he felt the decision to close SOS came from more than just a lack of funding. Before its end, SOS had been protesting homeless nonprofit service provider HomeFirst over alleged discrimination, and Morand said he worried that stance led to the committee’s disbanding.

Carter said that wasn’t the case and repeated that SOS was closed while Sacred Heart’s resources were being reallocated. HomeFirst spokesperson Lori Smith also denied the suggestion, saying the nonprofit hadn’t been aware SOS was still operating and wasn’t engaged with the committee at all.

Morand and other SOS members would like to continue their work, even though the relationship is over with Sacred Heart. He still hopes the nonprofit could change its mind and reestablish the committee. Morand said he plans to continue the landscaping program either way, to help bring more job opportunities for unhoused people.

To Sanderlin, the closure of SOS is a warning about dwindling support for organizing in San Jose.

“This is so much more than just one committee, this does call into question the infrastructure of organizing in San Jose,” he told San José Spotlight. “There’s other things going on between that, but if we don’t have time to build with people and there’s no capacity funding wise, we just have to start asking a lot of deeper questions. It’s going to be hard.”

Contact B. Sakura Cannestra at [email protected] or @SakuCannestra on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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