New Mural Honors Lives of San Jose’s Homeless Residents

Outside of Biebrach Park in San Jose’s Gardner neighborhood, volunteers came together Saturday to create the first known Bay Area mural dedicated to unhoused people.

Designed by tattoo artist and illustrator Benny Arana-O’Hara, the mural painted on the asphalt of West Virginia Street depicts two fists coming together against a red line.

Surrounding the two fists, woven into elements of the mural are the words “social justice,” “mental health,” equity, support,” “advocate, familia,” “resilient communities,” “BIPOC orgullo,” and “survival, compassion.”

Some attendees dressed in Aztec clothing in homage to their indigenous heritage. (Photo by Amani Hamed)

Shaunn Cartwright, one of the organizers, said the fists colliding at the red line represent communities coming together to destroy institutional practices such as redlining that kept permanent affordable housing out of the reach of many unhoused people.

“It’s about the oppression and the injustice, but it’s also about the resilience and the strength of these communities,” O’Hara added.

Though O’Hara drew the final design, they said the creation of the mural was a group effort—one that was inspired by the Black Lives Matter mural by Backesto Park.

Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) was one of the speakers at the weekend event. (Photo by Amani Hamed)

Organizers said the new Virginia Street mural is also meant to draw the link between homelessness and racism. In San Jose, where Black people comprise just 3 percent of all residents, they make up 20 percent of the unhoused population, according to the latest homeless census, which was conducted in early 2019. Latinx people, meanwhile, make up 32 percent of the city population but 41 percent of its unhoused community.

The painting took from dawn to dusk to finish. (Photo by Jennifer Wadsworth)

The same collaborative spirit that brought together the mural wove through other aspects of the event which, like the painting, were designed to bring attention to the many systemic failings that cause homelessness.

While some volunteers painted the street, others sold T-shirts with proceeds benefiting the unhoused community. While members of the nonprofit HERO Tent handed out snacks and whipped up a pancake breakfast for attendees, other organizers collected canned goods and bottled water for unhoused folks.

Patricia Palomares-Mason (right) and a friend wore handmade masks designed with traditional Mexican embroidery. (Photo by Amani Hamed)

A couple hours into the event, speakers—from local council candidates to state electeds—took to a microphone to talk about the need to protect and expand voting rights, the dangers of gentrification and permanent solutions to homelessness.

District 27 Assemblyman Ash Kalra lamented the income inequality that’s worsening in the pandemic as “a tale of two valleys,” in which the wealthy live in relative comfort while essential workers are treated as “sacrificial,” so that others might stay home.

The speakers discussed how the pandemic has compounded the city’s homelessness crisis, as many residents were forced to file for unemployment as some businesses shut down and essential services such as grocery stores and restaurants operated with reduced staff. They spoke about how federal COVID-19 benefits ended last week, which sets the stage for millions of Americans to lose their homes.

Benny O’Hara was the lead designer for the vibrant mural. (Photo by Amani Hamed)

Organizers chose the site for the mural because of the neighborhood’s Latino heritage and the resilience of Latinx residents in San Jose’s Horseshoe-Gardner area.

Peter Ortiz, board member of the Santa Clara County Board of Education, spoke on the gentrification of neighborhoods such as Gardner and how the erasure of Latinx people in San Jose relates to the disproportionate rate at which people of color become homeless.

“They want to call this ‘North Willow Glen,’ but this is not Willow Glen,” he said. “This is Gardner. This is Horseshoe. There is no San Jose without the Latinx community.”

Black and Latinx Americans are also more likely to be essential workers, and represent a disproportionate amount of those who contract and die from COVID-19, he noted.

Activist and longtime Gardner resident Patricia Palomares-Mason took the microphone to address the particular barriers to housing facing the Latinx community in San Jose, and to explain that while she can sometimes come across as aggressive when acting as a community advocate, she has no intention of stopping.

“I’ve thrown the chancla at some people before, because I’m defending my gente,” Palomares-Mason said. “From the north and south, east and west, as high as the sun and right down to Mother Earth,  as long as I’m alive I’m gonna do it.”

Some of the organizers post for an aerial shot of the finished painting. (Photo via Facebook)

12 Comments

  1. > Shaunn Cartwright, one of the organizers, said the fists colliding at the red line represent communities coming together to destroy institutional practices such as redlining that kept permanent affordable housing out of the reach of many unhoused people.

    Sounds to me like a fictional narrative.

    “Redlining” is illegal.

    The “unhoused people” could go to any of zillions of poverty lawyers and sue! sue! sue!

    Maybe the “unhoused people” could provide an actual instance of LEGAL redlining to illustrate the problem that their exploitive shaman, Shaunn Cartwright, is pinched about.

  2. No one person has caused more homeless in San Jose than Shaunn Cartwright.

    For those who don’t know. Ms Cartwright is highly expressive, effective activist who has SJI, SJS, Mercury News, and half of the city council on speed dial. She was critical in passing the disastrous ARO ordinances over the past 5 or so year.

    According to the ARO report the city put together, from 2001 to 2015, nominal average rent paid on an ARU went from $1400 to $1445, essentially flat with a massive dip in between peaks. Since her victory in passing rent control, that has spike to $2000. Thats 40% in a 4-5 years. No way to know how many people that forced out, but would require $72K to qualify, how many people make that?

    Prior to passing cause justa, evictions were running 500 a year, since her victory in 2017 there have been 25000 evictions, destroying the lives of 50000-75000 people. That’s a 2000% annual increase.

    Shame on you Ms Cartwright.

    You are a tsunami of suffering.

    The best thing you could do for all these people who’s lives you have destroyed is go away.

  3. — “They want to call this ‘North Willow Glen,’ but this is not Willow Glen,” he said. “This is Gardner. This is Horseshoe. There is no San Jose without the Latinx community.” — Peter Ortiz, board member of the Santa Clara County Board of Education

    What a dope. Too ignorant to realize that ‘North Willow Glen’ is a marketing invention used by real estate agents to garner better prices for neighborhood home sellers (trying to get away from the likes of these moronic, racist activists).

    As for his claiming “This is Horseshoe,” claiming is the operative word, as that nickname originated forty years ago with the violent, PCP-addled Hispanic gangs who hung around the horseshoe-shaped dead-end created with the construction of the community center (meant to make the neighborhood better, which was just the opposite of what the gangs were intending).

    If Peter Ortiz really wants to cement his territorial bona fides he should do what has been done in the name of “Horseshoe” so many times before: beat up a good Mexican kid who refuses to claim anything.

  4. Please enlighten us, BATRAILRUNNER. Show us where redlining is legal.

    And what book shall we read? Are you suggesting Gibbons’ Decline and Fall? Or maybe Smith’s Wealth of Nations? Or Bastiat’s great essay, That Which Is Seen and Not Seen? Or maybe the Bible?

    I doubt that the dot.EDU factories still assign that sort of reading. Instead, it’s books like Das Kapital, which has led to the systemic failure of scores of economies, without a single success. Is that the book you’re promoting in your vague, uppity presumption that you’re more knowledgeable than the writers whose books contributed directly to the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights?

    You’re not, but the fault isn’t entirely yours. The gov’t dot.EDU factories no longer emphasize the ideas that made America great. Instead, they indoctrinate young minds with the same nonsense that resulted in abject failure in every country that ever tried it. Ours will be no different if we continue on the current path.

  5. >If Peter Ortiz really wants to cement his territorial bona fides he should do what has been done in the name of “Horseshoe” so many times before: beat up a good Mexican kid who refuses to claim anything.

    Oh I’m sure he’s done that a few times.

    https://thedailyfold.com/2018/11/02/county-school-board-candidate-peter-ortiz-in-silicon-valley-has-criminal-past-resurface-in-race-had-gang-ties/

    Don’t forget he was ousted from the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

    https://sanjosespotlight.com/corruption-allegations-at-silicon-valleys-hispanic-chamber-board-members-ousted/?fbclid=IwAR2bUHVLbh_5SSCXmTrhxALbJPlP67gvX5a_DvlnII9_NUgHSK5Lb8uNgg8

    Old habits die hard, he’s still a Norteno, bless his little heart.

  6. It’s kinda hot how SJ Kulak is so obsessed with me. Are you single? If you’re not, your other half must be kinda jealous, I mean, you spending so much time stalking me and all. Wait, maybe I’m the jealous one, I’ve found someone who’s dedicated to me, but I can’t have them. (Dramatic sigh)

  7. Ms Cartwright,

    Thanks for the note.

    I think it would be worth a cost of a dinner to hear you congratulate yourself on causing so much misery. I wonder how many young girls you have caused to be evicted have been raped since they were homeless? How many have died or committed suicide, just so you can keep your name in the papers? No need to stalk, you can’t seem to stop calling Ms. Wadsworth or Ms. Giwargis to get your picture taken and your great works recorded. How many parents do you think lost their kids or kids lost their parents due to your work? It must be overwhelming to behold your successes. I mean 25000 evictions is quite an accomplishment. A dinner would be a fascinating, a teaching moment, but my wife wouldn’t understand. Too bad for me.

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