Why is the San Jose Housing Department handling the roll out of Tiny Homes differently than they did the preservation of mobile homes, or the struggle for renters’ rights?
In both those cases, extensive community meetings were held that were heavily attended by people representing both sides of the issues. Instead, the Housing Department had small, private meetings with hand-picked community members about Tiny Homes (a.k.a. Bridge Housing Communities) and it invited no houseless people or advocates for the houseless.
The community—rightfully feeling things were being imposed upon them without input—reacted. The media reported on it. And still the Housing Department didn’t change its course.
Where was the literature explaining the success rate of sanctioned encampments, tiny homes and housing in other cities and states? Where was the homeless census to help illustrate our large senior/disabled houseless population, our under 25 houseless population, our houseless families? Where were the currently houseless folks to share their stories? The houseless advocates to explain the work they do every day? And what about the formerly houseless folks to share their success stories?
As advocates of the houseless, we demand answers to these questions. We want to know why advocates and houseless people were shut out of the process. We call on all council members to ask these questions.
Houseless people and those of us who advocate for them have been told, “wait for permanent supportive housing.” We’ve been told to “wait for Measure A funds.” We have waited and waited.
While we’ve waited, the death rate of houseless people skyrocketed 164 percent between 2011 and 2016, and nearly doubled between 2015 and 2016. Asking us to wait for permanent supportive housing is equivalent to telling people to die.
And yet, that’s exactly what the mayor and housing department have done with their refusal to pursue the sanctioned encampments the city and county passed in 2015. (Note: The houseless death rate has nearly doubled during this time.) Sanctioned encampments have worked so well in Seattle that the city added three more last December, bringing the total to six.
Meanwhile, San Jose clings to its permanent supportive housing as the only real option—which, according to county documents, will take 11 years to build homes for the nearly 5,000 houseless we currently have. That total excludes the ones who will die waiting.
At the county Board of Supervisors HULET meeting last Thursday, Supervisor Dave Cortese suggested replacing the short-term tiny homes programs with basic RVs that can be purchased for about $15,000 apiece, or about 15-20 percent of the cost of tiny homes. They can also be deployed in a matter of months instead of years. Cortese’s proposed RV parks could help as many as 1,700 people for the same price as tiny homes’ 250 people. We call on all council members to pursue this cost effective strategy.
Residents of Districts 2, 3 and 9 are correct when they feel it’s unfair for their neighborhoods to be the only ones selected for tiny homes—out of an original 99 sites. Tiny homes and/or sanctioned encampments should be in every district, as the mayor and council agreed.
Pretending houseless people don’t exist in every neighborhood—and trying to push them into other neighborhoods—solves nothing. Housing houseless people helps both the houseless people and their neighbors. Almost all of us have someone in our lives who struggles with mental health and/or addiction, and we know being houseless only exacerbates the situation.
While these people wait for housing, the city wants to remove houseless people from St. James Park, insisting there are options for people to get food seven days a week, “within blocks of the park.” This is patently untrue.
The city also continues to pursue its harassment of houseless people via merciless and unconstitutional sweeps that cause further trauma and hardship. We call for a moratorium on the enforcement of both of these issues until the city and/or county comes up with a viable short and long term housing plan. One that includes input from all residents—housed and unhoused—and a full service houseless center, where houseless people can get food, showers, social services and more, all within four blocks of St. James Park.
August 26 marks the two-year anniversary of Michael Tyree’s death. Michael was a mentally ill houseless man beaten to death by guards at the county jail. His death, like the death of other houseless people who die in custody, was not included in the houseless death count, yet it is the most high profile death of a houseless person in the past few years. Had he and the other houseless people not been told to wait for permanent housing, Michael and the others might be here today.
Robert Aguirre is unhoused and an advocate for the unhoused with H.O.M.E.L.E.S.S. Shaunn Cartwright is an advocate for the unhoused with Rise Up for Justice and South Bay Tenants’ Union. Sandy Perry is an advocate for the unhoused with CHAM Deliverance Ministries and H.O.M.E.L.E.S.S. Opinions are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.