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Wednesday, October 21, 2020
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Opinion Opinion: Milpitas is dropping the ball on helping homeless people

Opinion: Milpitas is dropping the ball on helping homeless people

In 2020, Milpitas got struck by an invader.

The invader could be recognized the whole world over. It was subtle yet sinister. It could usually be counted on to leave you alone, but then again, if it got close enough, it could most definitely harm or kill you. And so Milpitas reacted calmly, swiftly, and accordingly.

I speak above, of course, of COVID-19. To date, 603 Milpitas residents have been diagnosed with it. Thankfully, our mayor and city council acted earlier than any other Bay Area city to enact a citywide face covering law. Our population—mature, cooperative, widely prone to self-preservation—has by and large complied.

But now a new “invader” has emerged. This one, too, is in most every city worldwide. But far from being invisible, it is right in front of us. Notably, as far as Milpitas is concerned, it has no history of proving fatal or dangerous. And yet Milpitas went ahead and had itself a colossal freak-out.

I speak this time, with ironically-intended quotation marks around the word “invader,” of homelessness.

That’s right: faced with a historic pandemic, we showed great steadiness and resolve. But faced instead with a problem we have long been grappling with, we became a country club filled with panicked groundskeepers, terrified that there’d be dirt upon the shrubbery.

It was not unlike 2018’s cannabis freak-out, when an assortment of residents reacted in sheer terror to the notion that their friends and neighbors might get stoned, get the munchies, and chill out on the couch watching Seth Rogen comedies. No, as a matter of head-splitting urgency, Milpitas had to remain as irrelevant and anti-cultural as possible.

Aiding the homeless exists above mere culture and relevancy. Aiding the homeless is a matter of kindness, sympathy, and compassion. And yet such a notion, simple at its core, couldn’t help but spur a firestorm of controversy. When the county hatched plans to use a current Milpitas hotel as a residence for homeless people, many members of our community got busy erecting walls and fences. They complained of the locale. They complained of the concept! Then the mayor planned an urgent city council meeting, citing the county’s failure to call Milpitas to the planning table. The council assembled divided and adjourned united, having agreed to pen a letter to the county pushing back against the plan due to its failure to be inclusive of Milpitas residents and officials (to say nothing of the fact that the plan didn’t prioritize housing for the homeless residents of Milpitas). 

But some were reminded of events from last year, when the City of Milpitas budgeted $75,000 for a nonprofit agency homeless case manager dedicated solely to the service of Milpitas, yet never got around to using the money/filling the role. Others were reminded of 2017, when Milpitas received a grant in the amount of  $80,568 to be used toward establishing a Homeless Outreach Team, some of which has still remained untouched.

We can do better.

Leaving the past in the past (for now), we can welcome the new facility so long as its development is inclusive of Milpitas residents, the Milpitas City Council, and/or Milpitas City Hall. Or, we can welcome the new facility so long as it at some point allotts for Milpitian tenants, now or in the future. Or we can even welcome the new facility based on the premise that its mere existence could make way for more local facilities like it as time goes on. Or we can welcome the new facility on the pure old-fashioned basis of radical compassion, sending a message to Milpitas, the region, and the world entire that ours is a city of consciousness and kindness.

Instead, though, we have buckled to the status quo. We cite the presence of a nonexistent threat, somehow equating homelessness with sociopathy. But unless I missed something, being morally bankrupt doesn’t land you on the streets.

Though it could very certainly land you in the White House.

Homeless people are already here. They’re along our roadways, under our bridges, and out in front of our shops and stores. They have no history of killing other residents, although one homeless Milpitas resident, Laine Barnes, was found murdered late last year. Maybe if Mr. Barnes had been safe indoors rather than at a homeless encampment, he would today still be alive.

We are a community of vast diversity. Most among us hail from somewhere else. Most among us have known the feeling of being outcast, being demonized, being locked out, being other.

We mustn’t take leave of our collective human memory. We face now an opportunity to make a difference. Our city can remain just a nice place to live, or we can actually step it up and become a kind one. 

 

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Eric Shapiro
Eric Shapiro is an acclaimed, award-winning writer-filmmaker and has served as a ghostwriter, speechwriter, or script doctor for over 3,000 clients. His first novel is a dark political thriller called ”Red Dennis" (2020). His first nonfiction book is a guide for helping writers be more productive called ”Ass Plus Seat" (2020). Eric's books can be purchased here.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for writing this, Eric. Our city can definitely do better. In fact, I expected better. Our city leaders had an opportunity to show real leadership, and to stand up for some of our most disenfranchised residents in Milpitas. Instead, they let fear (and probably the vocal objections of privileged homeowners) guide their decisions. Very disappointing.

  2. Another example of Milpitas fear and NIMBY. You would think the mayor and city council would have some inkling this was coming down the road. I would guess that the opponents of this plan, rather than proponents, are going to be more vocal. Why not just be a little progressive and see if this housing plan for the homeless works? Maybe it will cause the problems some people think it will. Maybe it won’t. It’s up to all involved to make sure it works. Perhaps Milpitas is more conservative than we think.

  3. While you make a great argument for compassion Eric, that alone is not enough to sanction hundreds of people with no jobs, riddled with vices like drugs and alcohol within a safe residential community. If homelessness is the consequence of just steep home prices, then and only then our compassion and a quick solution such as what you are proposing would suffice. Unfortunately it is NOT. We like to believe it or not, every study reveals that most homeless people are addicted to drugs and or alcohol and the addiction may be a strong contributing factor to their current predicament. Needless to point out that people with addictions find it impossible to hold jobs and become responsible to turn their lives back from the streets. Therefore, housing people with no jobs, prolonged unemployment at best, and who are most likely addicted, is a recipe for increasing burglary and worse crimes in a residential community. A better solution may be to provide housing for them in a city that can provide easy access to detox facilities and counseling and blue collar jobs, the 3 factors that can potentially wean the homeless population out of the streets and make them responsible for their lives and livelihood. In light of the above, Milpitas is the least qualified to do so since almost all the other cities in the Santa Clara County are larger and with dedicated downtown areas with lots of blue collar jobs. Thank you Mayor and Milpitas council members for making the right decision for our city and our community.

  4. Yes! Yes! Yes! I was thrilled to hear that this housing was in the works and was to hear that it won’t be happening. I have a homeless friend with two beautiful young children who were fortunate enough to have safe housing at an Extended Stay in San Jose. Love this and agree wholeheartedly. Also, it was my understanding that to receive this housing there are a number of rules. It’s not just a “free for all” kind of situation. The homeless that receive this housing are held to a standard. Very disappointed with the response from the community.

  5. That’s what I was thinking. I am sure there are non-drug addicted, non-alcoholic, non-criminal regular people who need a safe place to stay. The Extended Stay should be kept neat, clean, and safe. Isn’t that acceptable?

    • Absolutely! And especially when it involves single moms and children and senior citizens. Can the City guarantee that a few years from now they would continue to qualify residents and would preclude this facility from housing addicts and released criminals? Ten, twenty years from now can the City continue to monitor this? If these boundaries are pushed progressively (as it usually happens), it would be impossible to fight the City and the County and perhaps even the State then when this facility is funded by these three entities. Prevention is always better than cure, and if the City wants to have a shelter for women and their children here, most people would be okay with that.

      • To specify – the friend to which I was referring is not female and is in fact a recovering addict who, as a prerequisite for receiving his housing at an extended stay in San Jose attended a support group for recovering addicts AT the Extended stay in order to assist in bettering his life and getting back on his feet. Imagine a place that could house, support, and potentially rehabilitate addicts. I think living in the fear that maybe in the distant future it might not work out is a pretty sad way to view housing homeless people who could desperately use some support.

        • Your friend’s example definitely does not fit the average profile of a homeless person and it’s wonderful that he found a safe place and the help he needed to get back on his feet. Unfortunately policies are made based on averages and data from large studies. I don’t know if that Extended Stay is located in the midst of single-family homes with young families as the one in Milpitas. We are all more cautious and protective of our community because in addition to all the points expressed above, it’s also the location of this Extended Stay.

  6. Yes I totally agree. Having been a resident of Milpitas for 20 years, I support Project HomeKey. Not allowing the homeless to have housing does not mean the city of Milpitas has no homeless, it just means they are still… homeless. The city of Milpitas has been blessed with many new business and housing development projects that bring valuable revenue and tax dollars to our city. I would hope that the city of Milpitas would repay this grace by giving back to those in the community who need it. Most of us have heard the saying, “there but for the grace of god go I.” While most, but not everyone has heard this saying, this saying does remain true for everyone. We are all one step away from a tragedy putting us in undesirable circumstances. Before that happens, let us do something for those who are already in that place. Housing the homeless does not diminish the value of the city of Milpitas, rather it makes us better, giving us value not just for our business and tax revenue, but who we are as compassionate human beings.

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