Elderly woman standing in small convention hall
Sirina Paras said Sunnyvale Community Services helped her through a temporary eviction by putting her up in a motel room and providing her with case management. Photo by B. Sakura Cannestra.

Sirina Paras was temporarily evicted from her home last year, and a Sunnyvale nonprofit put her up in a motel room and helped her navigate the eviction.

Paras said she is grateful for the help of Sunnyvale Community Services (SCS). The 73-year-old Sunnyvale resident said she was initially evicted because a neighbor claimed she had rats in her apartment, and her landlord wants her to pay $25,000 in cleaning fees. She is now back in her home, and the nonprofit has helped her navigate through the charges and impending court dates.

“They provided food for me, a roof over my head,” Paras told San José Spotlight. “I got whatever I needed.”

Paras was one of more than 100 homeless people brought together by the nonprofit last week through an event to help connect the unhoused population with jobs, housing and food resources. Sunnyvale has about 385 unhoused residents according to the 2022 point-in-time count, though county officials said the tally is often an undercount. There are more than 10,000 homeless residents living in Santa Clara County per a count conducted last year.

The nonprofit emergency assistance agency was founded in 1970. The city and SCS have collaborated for years in providing supportive services to vulnerable residents. The city also contracts with nonprofit provider HomeFirst to provide outreach and shelter support.

Last September, the Sunnyvale City Council approved an agreement with SCS to become an equity partner in the nonprofit’s property located at 1160 Kern Ave. The city contributed $4 million toward the partnership, which the nonprofit used to pay off its mortgage and free up operating cash to continue delivering services to the community, according to city documents.

“This is why we exist, our mission is to prevent homelessness and hunger,” Executive Director Marie Bernard told San José Spotlight. “It takes one slip for you to fall into homelessness.”

People sitting on chair in hallway waiting in line
Ashel Berumen (left) and Joseph Toman wait to have their vision checked, one of many services provided at the Sunnyvale Community Services unhoused resource fair. Photo by B. Sakura Cannestra.

Bernard said it’s difficult to connect homeless residents to resources because they are often transient and struggle with transportation. Bringing multiple support organizations together makes it easier to access a variety of services, from food and clothing to free on-site vision and dental care.

To provide more stable transportation, Bernard said the nonprofit rented a bus to help shuttle people to and from the county-owned Sunnyvale Family Shelter. Destination: Home provided a $5,000 grant, which helped pay for the bus, food, clothing and other miscellaneous items.

While the grant was an important monetary buffer, Bernard said it did not cover employee costs. She said keeping the organization afloat has been difficult, with increased spending on food and services, while corporate and foundation funding has decreased.

“This shows there’s need in North County, which is perceived as one of the richer parts of the county,” Bernard said. “Our philosophy is that our safety net cannot have holes.”

Sunnyvale Community Services Chief Development Officer Nivisha Mehta said about 140 people attended the event, some of whom previously used the nonprofit’s programs or have been supported by it in the past.

Ashel Berumen, 28, said it was helpful to see all the available services in one place. She had previously been homeless with her two children after escaping a violent relationship, and she said it’s difficult to find information about support organizations when unhoused.

Berumen and Joseph Toman, 36, are members of the Sunnyvale Downtown Streets Team, a nonprofit organization that provides volunteer and work opportunities to homeless residents in the community. Toman was recently able to get a housing voucher through the nonprofit and said he was at the fair looking for job resources.

Amanda Sztoltz, Sunnyvale’s new homeless services manager, attended the event and said it was a good opportunity to see the landscape of supportive services for the city’s unhoused residents.

“Hopefully we can support (more) in the future so it’s not a one and done,” Sztoltz told San José Spotlight.

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

Comment Policy (updated 5/10/2023): Readers are required to log in through a social media or email platform to confirm authenticity. We reserve the right to delete comments or ban users who engage in personal attacks, hate speech, excess profanity or make verifiably false statements. Comments are moderated and approved by admin.

Leave a Reply