It’s a Saturday morning in Milpitas, the one right after Christmas.
The streets are quiet, with the occasional car buzzing by. Most residents, though, have packed it in: As COVID-19 surges near the year’s dark end, many in the city are laying low, lest they have to go out seeking food or medical care.
But despite the surge, one group of people is out and about, distributing food and care alike.
The group’s called HOPE for the Unhoused. They meet weekly, and recently applied for non-profit status. In addition to their Board, they have a Volunteer Team. The Board consists of, among others, Lisa Moreno, Loreto Dimaandal, and Yolie Garcia.
This past June, HOPE came together by way of Facebook, where talk of Milpitas’ homeless population was on the rise. They sought to find out which governmental entities were responsible for assisting the unhoused in the City of Milpitas and at the County of Santa Clara level. Through attending government meetings for both the City and the County, the group hooked up with Loreto Dimaandal, a longtime local advocate in Milpitas, San Jose, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, and Fremont who works through her self-same named Loreto QD’s Brigade, Silicon Valley.
On the Saturday of which I speak, I meet Dimaandal and Yolie Garcia out in front of Blue Dragon Taekwondo Academy, where they’re among a group stuffing taut plastic bags filled with essential goods into giant colored freezer bags. Blue Dragon has proven a vital ally to HOPE due to the industrial-grade freezer it has onsite, to say nothing of its young martial arts students who show up to volunteer.
Pointing to the items they’re about to distribute, Dimaandal refers to them as “winter care.” She then makes clear, “It’s not just for Milpitas; it’s for everybody…If we have extras, they go to East San Jose.”
The operation requires two vehicles, generally, and at least a couple of hours. On Christmas Day, the day before I meet them, HOPE received 100 fresh trays of food, 50 of which got allocated straightaway to Milpitas families. Says Dimaandal, upon describing HOPE’s intricate outreach network, “We work with everybody.’
She then addresses our City government directly: “I would like the City of Milpitas to step up to the plate to help the Milpitas unhoused, so that they can have mobile showers and laundry; they can finish out the assessments, on the contract with the County, and have [the unhoused] assessed and ranked and put in the database so that they can be in the community queue for housing.” She also asks for the City to allocate money directly to the non-profit groups that customarily lend HOPE help.
The contract to which Dimaandal refers was approved by the Milpitas City Council this past November. At a cost of $200,000 per year, the City has agreed for the County’s Homeless Engagement and Assessment Team (HEAT) to come out and provide needed assessment, case management, and street team outreach for Milpitas’ unhoused population. As of 2019, Milpitas had 125 homeless residents, a number which has presumably grown in 2020.
In the meantime, the City of Milpitas has also agreed to fund a monthly mobile Shower Unit and Safe Parking programs, which are among HOPE’s top priorities.
To be sure, Dimaandal’s forceful nature has been instrumental to HOPE’s progress. Back in mid-August, she brought San Jose advocate Todd Langton into the fold. For years, Langton had been making trips to local unhoused camps and bringing in food and resources.
HOPE’s first (unofficial) outing was on a Saturday not unlike the one when I meet them, only one steeped in the stale air of August rather than the crisp air of December. They met in the parking lot of Staples, where they prepared between 40 and 50 “hygiene bags,” packing in water, masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, socks, toilet paper, granola bars, canned sausages, fruit cups, toothbrushes, toothpaste, lotion, wipes, and more, then headed out into Milpitas in search of camps.
Some were out in the open, others were hidden. Unhoused people were positioned in front of Milpitas Library and in the Goodwill parking lot. Others were under 680 ramps and Hillview Bridge. Before long, the hygiene bags ran out. But the giving spirit was in good supply, and HOPE had indeed been born.
Since that one August morning, they’ve been going out on Saturdays, handing out items mostly purchased with their own money. Through dialogue with unhoused residents, they’ve also discovered other needs, and have in turn shown up to give out clothing, tents, tarps, and sleeping bags.
As of October, with Dimaandal’s assistance, HOPE began receiving 110 hot meals every Friday and Monday from Morgan Hill, for distribution to the city’s homeless population, along with families in need from Randall Elementary School and Sunnyhills Apartments. In the meantime, on their Saturday runs, the packs they hand out include water bottles, utensils, and insulated food bags, distributed from Sinclair Frontage Road to 680 ramps to Dempsey Road to Ocean Market to the Sports Center, the Senior Center, Safeway, and Railroad Avenue.
“Lately,” wrote HOPE Board member Yolie Garcia in a follow-up email to The Milpitas Beat, “we’ve been meeting new homeless every time we go out.”