The new year in in full swing, and with it, the cold and wet nights of winter continue. Nighttime temperatures have been in the low 30s and 40s. During the holiday season, South Bay residents helped many of the 6,000-plus homeless people in Santa Clara County with warm food at kitchens or winter coats.
However, not everything changes with a new year. Homeless people continue to encounter the loneliness of the post-holiday season and continue to have few options on places to stay, including seasonal warming centers and the armory.
Sadly, other locations include the parks, streets and our creeks. This brings up two issues. First, people living outdoors are at higher risk for illness or death (more than 120 reportedly died in the County in 2016) as they brave rain and cold temperatures. Second, living on the creeks means continued pollution into our waterways and habitat degradation, not to mention possible flash floods.
Contributing to the homeless problem along the creeks are well-intentioned people (many from churches) who go to parks near the creeks to distribute food and clothing. This activity is not beneficial since it exacerbates pollution while encouraging people to go to the parks for short-term benefits rather than homeless service centers for longer-term assistance that can lead to housing.
Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful has been caring for and teaching people about the homeless, as well as getting people out to enjoy Coyote Creek. One of our core activities is creek cleanups with community members to bring the creek back to its vibrant natural state. I’ve seen salmon return to the Guadalupe River and can envision more fish and wildlife returning to Coyote Creek with some concentrated care. With a concerted effort, we can restore the creek together.
Luckily, one solution voters passed in November is Measure A, the Affordable Housing Act for Santa Clara County. The plan will direct $950 million to create 5,000 affordable housing units available to veterans, seniors, disabled people, low- and moderate-income individuals and families.
Additionally, the Santa Clara Valley Water District board has taken steps to address homelessness along the watersheds. However, NIMBY-ism has started to unfurl its wings. Building permanent housing is a long-term process, so we need to create bridge-housing in the interim as put forth in AB 2176, which passed last September.
We advocate for structured temporary housing with on-site supportive services to help people—especially those living along the creeks and outdoors—to have a place to receive help and housing. My hope is that Measure A will ultimately reduce the number of people living on the creek, which would be a win-win for all.
If you’d like to help us in our mission, please register for a cleanup and attend an upcoming kayak outing or watershed tour. We would appreciate your support to make South Bay creeks healthy once again.
Deb Kramer is the founder and program manager for Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful, a community organization that provides leadership to restore the creek through cleanups and plantings, recreational and cultural activities, and educational partnerships. The opinions in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.