The pressure is on San Jose to deal with the epidemic of homelessness that’s turning pockets of the city into Third World encampments, polluting waterways and unsettling nearby neighborhoods. The squalid 75-acre camp known as The Jungle near Story Road is said to be the largest of its kind on the continental United States.
But San Jose is not causing or ignoring this problem. Nor is Santa Clara County, whose work with the city on homelessness is one of the best collaborations ever for the two governments.
All cities in Silicon Valley should accept regional responsibility for the poverty growing in our midst. But if there is a single villain to call out, it’s the state of California.
A homeless woman rakes her campsite in the encampment known as “The Jungle” off Story Road in San Jose, Calif., 2013. A homeless woman rakes her campsite in the encampment known as “The Jungle” off Story Road in San Jose, Calif., 2013. (LiPo Ching, Bay Area News Group) The Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown took away cities’ capacity to build affordable housing when they dismantled redevelopment agencies and failed to replace the housing money. That cost San Jose some $40 million a year it had used to help nonprofits and others build affordable projects.
Despite an explosion of homelessness statewide — California now has 20 percent of the nation’s homeless — Sacramento has turned its back. Or worse. Now the state Fish and Game Department is citing San Jose for the camps’ pollution of rivers. It suggests the homeless should be arrested. Really? What is this, a Les Miserables revival?
National and local leaders know what works: Put people in actual homes and set up the support services they need to function in society. This has been shown time and again to be cheaper in the long run, and Destination Home, the local partnership working toward the goal, does a great job. But there’s no place to house people and no money to build units.
Many of today’s homeless have incomes — low wage jobs, military or disability pensions. Some even have rent vouchers, but market rents are so high, landlords choose not to accept them.
San Jose’s proposal to turn some high vacancy motel rooms into efficiencies for the homeless is a great idea, but it will provide maybe 60 units. The valley needs an infusion of affordable apartments to give Destination Home a chance to do its work.
San Jose Housing Director Leslye Corsiglia, who has been fighting the good fight for decades, says the federal government offers some support, and local cities and the county are exploring the idea of a joint powers authority to pool resources. There’s some federal money available for housing, and local agencies are grabbing as much as they can. The state is the missing player.
Construction cranes over downtown and North San Jose are building hundreds of market rate apartments. But when rents come down, so will the cranes. Builders will never create enough housing to make it cheap here.
The state took away San Jose’s capacity to leverage nonprofit resources for affordable housing. Until it accepts responsibility and gets back in the game, the homeless camps will grow.
Jennifer Loving is executive director of Destination: Home, a public-private partnership working to house the homeless in Santa Clara County. She wrote this for this newspaper.