Velasquez: Choosing real results over impossible promises on homelessness
A homeless encampment established on the corner of Branham Lane and Monterey Road in San Jose. File photo.

This election season, confusion and common sense seem to be tied together for some reason. This is especially true since someone claiming to be the purported leader of the common sense revolution is trying to solve a complex problem like homelessness using sensationalized slogans, misleading data and impossible promises.

Take the current mayoral race in San Jose, for example. On one side, you have a new councilmember—Matt Mahan—who has never worked on housing people in his entire life before dipping his toe in the shallow end when he joined the City Council in 2020. He claims to want to bring accountability to one of San Jose’s most pressing problems, but his so-called solutions are neither tested nor cost effective when it comes to ending homelessness. Others are already being done.

Chief among these carefully crafted deceptions is the illusion that sticking people in tiny freeway-adjacent temporary structures will actually save money or permanently fix the nightly suffering we see on our streets. Far from the considerable savings Mahan claims, each one of these little shelter sites will cost the taxpayers millions of dollars upfront in construction costs and tens of millions of dollars in the years ahead to keep operations going. Just look at the $40 million general fund commitment in next year’s budget alone to keep this work going toward a program that won’t permanently house a single person on its own.

That’s right: this effort is just a Band-Aid, providing short-term relief only. Interim shelter and transitional housing—which is what Matt is proposing—has actually existed for decades in communities across the United States. Anyone who knows anything about this work will tell you it is entirely dependent on placement of each person served into affordable permanent housing to get the job done. Without that transition to real housing, people languish, costs increase and the community as a whole suffers.

That aside, don’t even bother asking Matt where these temporary communities will be placed in his grand vision. He voted against the two new sites recommended by city staff this year, which is a good indicator of how much he believes in this clearly flawed and expensive endeavor. When your answer to a problem doesn’t really solve anything and you’re not even really that committed to it in the first place, you don’t need much common sense to understand what the outcome will be.

And the rest of his nine-point(less) plan relies on rehashing work that has already been done, application of nonexistent, unconstitutional laws that would ultimately just criminalize people living in poverty, and infeasible and unfounded demands from other municipalities that the city has no power to enforce. It’s really not his fault… he just doesn’t have the experience to know any better.

At the other end, you have Cindy Chavez. A visionary leader, who in her role on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors architected Measure A in 2016—an affordable housing bond that has spurred the creation of 4,700 homes in 44 developments in eight cities across Santa Clara County while leveraging state and federal dollars at a nearly 5:1 ratio.

She also served as one of the driving forces behind the creation of a homelessness prevention system in 2017 that has kept over 9,000 people in their homes. And she championed the creation of the Community Plan to End Homelessness, which has helped house 20,000 of our most vulnerable residents since 2015.

These are real results that show the potential of what can happen when a smart leader is able to unify a community around a common goal. There’s no question that homelessness is still a major crisis for us here. But the safe bet is the person who has ended homelessness for tens of thousands of people in her career. Not the new guy calling for common sense solutions, but with absolutely zero results to show for it.

Jonathan Velasquez is a small business owner, filmmaker and community advocate in San Jose’s Seven Trees neighborhood.

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