This is an open letter to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, the San Jose City Council and the Sunnyvale City Council.
Greetings from the Sunnyvale Clients Collaborative representing the Santa Clara County residents who reside at the Sunnyvale HomeFirst Shelter. We believe we are the first association in the country formed exclusively by, for and to represent shelter clients—perhaps because there haven’t been other people so passionate about the loss of their loving home at a shelter.
The face of homelessness in Silicon Valley in 2018 includes large populations of people working full time who were formerly middle-class housed people not long ago. The new face of homelessness includes blue collar workers currently working full time, the disabled, retirees on fixed incomes, students, and war veterans. And now, even white collar employees and degree holders, including professors, are living in their vehicles.
The Sunnyvale shelter is currently providing a meaningful safety net for these priced-out, vulnerable populations and is due to close April 15. But we have a real chance to save the lives of these people.
Sunnyvale represents families of all backgrounds with children as young as 6 months; seniors on fixed incomes; physically, intellectually, and mentally disabled people; and the fully employed working poor. Sunnyvale is unusual in that it has so many of the aforementioned families, seniors, and disabled individuals living under the same roof in harmony. On average, 140 people a night.
The culture at Sunnyvale is really a tribute to site manager Kelcy Fleming, her hiring decisions and practices, her attention to detail, and her experience in creating safe, nurturing spaces that our most vulnerable populations can thrive in.
Sunnyvale includes LGBTQ people who are commonly made targets at other shelters, and will not go to other shelters as a result. They feel safe and have found an inclusive and welcome sanctuary at Sunnyvale.
The environment is so nurturing that former addicts have found sobriety, full time work and are looking for housing; seniors have been walked back from the brink of suicide and have found meaning in life; people have formed friendships, supportive relationships, and found community that they never thought possible at a homeless shelter.
Sunnyvale gives us the perfect example of what a shelter can and should be, and will hopefully be a model to others around the country.
If the Sunnyvale shelter closed, it would not only be a disservice to us, but to the community at large as well. Because of poor experiences at other shelters, most of us will end up on the street—not at other shelters—something neither we, nor the community wants. It will also displace families that are just getting back on their feet, working poor who are saving to enter housing and seniors and the disabled who are waiting to be placed in permanent housing. We strongly encourage the Board of Supervisors to vote to make Sunnyvale a year-round shelter beginning this year.
We’d like to invite our elected officials to come break bread with us, share a meal, and stay the night to see what makes our home so unique and the community that it is shared by. We would like you to experience first-hand why the many diverse populations who reside here feel so welcome, safe, and genuinely cared for.
We fully support the bridge housing communities being discussed in San Jose; however, we’d like to see a lot more units for those prices. We’d also like to see more sites than just one—let’s not forget, on average, an unhoused person dies every three days. We are keenly aware of that--we just had a memorial for the 138 that died here last year, some of which were formerly your very own housed neighbors.
We strongly support additional safe parking, and would like to see lots waiting to be developed temporarily utilized for Safe Parking—particularly in San Jose. Some churches and other organizations have generously lent their resources for Safe Parking areas, but we need more support for these measures.
We also strongly support sanctioned encampments in addition to safe parking, because they are two options one can do almost immediately to make life safer for unhoused people. We have seen success stories across the country with Sanctioned Encampments.
We’d like to see individual shelters have more say in the ability to prioritize their own cases, supply their own vouchers, and make their own decisions on cases rather than waiting for the Office of Supportive Housing to make determinations.
We’d like to see some flexibility in the VI-SPDAT or a system created to address its flaws. A high scoring family, with a parent working full time, who just really needs rapid rehousing, shouldn’t be at a shelter for five months with no housing on the horizon. It seems advantageous to address needs that are very short term, and will prevent people from becoming “chronically homeless,” rather than how the system works now.
Lastly, we call for an end to sweeps. They are inhumane, they cause unhoused people to lose warm/dry clothing and gear, lose important paperwork, and identification.
They also cause additional trauma, to people who are already incredibly traumatized from the shock of homelessness, especially because many working class people in the Valley have never experienced homelessness. We know for a fact-- and are not assuming--that this contributes to peoples’ demise.
Again, we encourage the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to make the Sunnyvale Shelter a year-round shelter beginning this year. We encourage the San Jose and Sunnyvale city councils, as well as the general public, to join us in this fight.
We hope to see you at our home soon. We’ll keep a light on for ya’.
Members of the Sunnyvale Clients Collaborative
The Board of Supervisors will discuss the Sunnyvale shelter during its next scheduled meeting, which starts at 9:30am on Tuesday. Click here to read the agenda. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Interested in writing an op-ed? Email pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org.