We want to thank the Beat for the recent article outlining how the city is attempting to address homelessness in Milpitas. But, from our view, it’s like buying a new gadget with all these new features, only to be let down, because those features do not work or they end up not being very useful.
For example, let’s take a look at the assessments. The city contracted with the county in Nov 2020 to do outreach, case management, and assessments. But, then the county turnaround and contracted Abode Services (HEAT team), a nonprofit to do that work. While that is fine, and Abode made attempts to do outreach, it actually partnered with Hope for the Unhoused, a local nonprofit, to complete the outreach and complete the assessments because H4U already had the relationships with the unhoused.
But, here’s the thing. Once the assessments are done and they are put into the county’s queue, one should ask how long it takes for someone to be placed in the queue and actually get keys to housing to move into. Hint, it is like “watching paint dry”. The truth is that Santa Clara County has a shortage of very low-income affordable housing. And, because of low availability of land, building costs, NIMBYs, and other factors, these housing units are not keeping up with demand. While the county has an ambitious goal (and we applaud that effort) of housing 1200 families in the next year, the bottom line is that it will take time to house all of these folks. So, what are these people supposed to do in the meantime?
As for the case management, we applaud the work that Abode has done. However, at the end of the day, it takes time to create relationships, especially with the unhoused, who feel abandoned and disenfranchised. It was the Hope for the Unhoused (H4U) team working together with the Abode team who provided case management for our local homeless. Case management is a lot of work, a huge amount of time, and is more complicated than one might think. Here’s why. Ever go to DMV? So, if you don’t have an appointment at DMV, you can easily spend a day attempting to get your driver’s license or ID. Now, imagine that you don’t have a phone, your birth certificate or passport, a way to get there, or the money to pay for that ID. And if you didn’t think that was hard enough, that’s just one agency. Now, imagine what you have to do to get food stamps, a phone, a bus pass, etc. Yes, the agencies are there, but if you don’t have the basic tools and information (e.g internet), it is extremely hard to get those needed services. And, in many cases, Abode provided the phone number to these agencies, but the unhoused had to navigate the system on their own, which includes hours of waiting on the phone or waiting on mail as a response. H4U volunteers help these folks by advocating for these folks through accelerating the process , better information, and advocacy at appropriate levels. As someone mentioned it takes more than a master’s degree to navigate all of the various social services.
We do want to applaud the city for supporting the HEAT team (aka the Abode team) as they in partnership with H4U have made a difference to our homeless population. Their access to emergency shelter and understanding of the system and agencies helped many clients, which is why it is critical for the city to continue to provide funding and support. The partnership between Abode and H4U has resulted in getting folks off the street, which should be the ultimate goal. Also, praise to the city for supporting the weekly mobile showers and laundry. That’s part of the solution.
In the article, it was pointed out transitioning folks from living on the street, or in shelters, to long-term housing continues to be one of the City‘s top priorities. Another example of talk, but little substance. Other than the two programs that were just pointed out, we don’t see anything else that actually supports that goal. City leaders were not in favor of the Hillview Courts, which is a long-term housing solution (Permanent supportive housing). What other programs have the city provided that supports that goal?
Certainly, not the homeless task force. Another example of a ineffective process and we are still in desperate need for immediate solutions. We want to thank those who served on the task force and put in the effort. But, the task force was hampered by weak leadership and unclear purpose. Why? To understand the problem, you have to go see it, upfront and close, not just read about it. How many of the members went to our encampments? H4U provided an open invitation to the task force to spend time with us meeting our Unhoused residents . And what was the goal of the task force? Was it to offer solutions that actually get people off the streets?
Let’s take a look at their report.
So, the purpose of the task force was to “expand resident participation and provide solutions, feedback, and input that will contribute to improving the quality of life of the Milpitas community, neighborhoods, and residents” (slide 4).
Hmm. So their focus was not on our unhoused?
And one of the task force goals was: Help the unhoused move into housing for the homeless.
And their recommendations were centered around:
- Milpitas Homeless Help Center
- Temporary Housing
- Homelessness Prevention
- Work and Self-sufficiency
So, really quickly, how do any of those solutions really meet their stated goal? The solutions offered are weak and without detail. By the way, we do support the idea of temporary housing and homeless prevention.
In the end, many of our City leaders exhibit a callused attitude toward this community problem. Some prefer to take away all local funds and say it is a county problem, create ordinances in an attempt to limit where the homeless can stay, and or transport the homeless away from Milpitas. But here’s the real problem. None of those are solutions.
Let’s take a look at each one:
“It’s the county problem or they have the funds to deal with it” – Ok, so what happens when the homeless population grows in Milpitas (and everywhere else) and the county is already stretched and the response time is measured in weeks. What are you going to do then? This is already the trend as many of the County services are overwhelmed. Is this what Milpitians want, a reactive response? And isn’t Milpitas part of the county? Our neighboring cities are working hard to deal with the problem of homelessness and we, in Milpitas dismiss and put in on the county as their problem? Is this how we want our neighboring cities and the county to view us?
Instead our leaders want to make let’s make rules that the homeless can’t stay on our streets” – If the homeless population grows, they will become more desperate. So, they violate the ordinance. They get arrested. To some, jail is a better option than the streets. Is that what we want? Violating this ordinance is unlikely a felony, so are we having the homeless rotate in and out of jail? Wouldn’t that take away focus on more dangerous crime for our police department?
And our last one, “transport them outta here”. Really! Do you believe that there are shelters that are empty, waiting for the homeless to arrive? Most shelters and emergency housing are full and juggle a large number of folks. If that’s the case, won’t these folks just come back? Or others come?
At the end of the day, we need city leaders who will:
- Learn and understand the scope of the problem
- Treat all people living in Milpitas, homeless as well, with respect and compassion, but set expectations of mutual responsibility
- Develop partnerships for actual solutions (where solutions means that they need to get off the streets in a permanent supportive environment to allow them a second chance)
- Invest in programs at the city level to help with actual solutions
- Develop a plan and strategy on how to address homeless in Milpitas that includes prevention, sustaining, and getting them off the streets
Develop real metrics that measure our success
In our opinion, Milpitians deserve leaders who can address community problems such as this one with empathy and compassion. Make your vote count in November.
Thank you for your time in listening to us.