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San Jose: Churches step up to house homeless vets

SAN JOSE — In an ambitious plan to house 700 homeless veterans in the next two years, elected leaders Wednesday called on churches and other faith organizations to open their doors to those who served our country and live on the streets — offering landlord incentives to the faith leaders if they help find a qualified unit.

Pastor Tim Wood of the Evergreen Valley Church heard the call loud and clear. He already feeds the homeless people sleeping behind his church, but now he’s called on a property manager, Gary Walker, to find a home for six or seven homeless veterans.

“This isn’t right, and it’s unjust,” Wood said. “The church needs to do something about it. We’re in the miracle business.”

Breakhrough Outreach/Shelters Network Founder Karen Addato, left, talks with Lilly Mai, who is living at a homeless encampment near railroad tracks in San Jose, Calif., Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015. Addato, of Los Gatos, and her team of volunteers try to help homeless people get off the streets. Her Wifi-equipped RV, which she paid half for out of pocket, allows her staff to sign up the homeless for a variety of services, from medical care to subsidized housing. (Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group) ( Patrick Tehan )

Wood’s church is among 15 others that have joined a new initiative called “Housing One Hero” led by county Board of Supervisors President Dave Cortese, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and the nonprofit Destination: Home.

A week before Wednesday’s call to invite churches, the county Board of Supervisors approved $500,000 in incentives to landlords who rent to homeless veterans, including a “gratitude” bonus up to $1,500 and up to $500 for repairs without an inspection. The city also pegged $5 million for a pilot program, though the city’s funding isn’t just for homeless veteran housing.

The new initiative asks faith organizations to help at least one veteran by either housing them on church grounds, calling on folks in the congregation to house a vet or connecting them with landlords who might have a room.

Roughly 260 veterans in Santa Clara County have vouchers for subsidized housing but still can’t afford to rent in Silicon Valley.

“We know there are folks in your congregation that might have an extra bedroom in their home and would be comfortable housing a vet,” Liccardo said at an event Wednesday launching the initiative. “We can use the power of the faith community to reach people.”Cortese, who was unable to attend Wednesday’s event because of late notification from the mayor’s office and a schedule conflict, said “These people served our country and were housed adequately while they were in combat. We can’t abandon their housing needs now that they’ve returned home.”

Vice Mayor Rose Herrera, the council’s veteran liaison and an Air Force veteran, said she’s grateful to the churches but it’s critical to include organizations like the San Jose Vet Center, the United Veterans Council and Veterans Supportive Services Agency in the project. None of those organizations were at Wednesday’s event.

Tito Cortez, the executive director of the Veterans Supportive Services Agency, said Wednesday he hadn’t heard about the initiative but would like to be involved.

Vietnam War veteran Pat Robertson said the churches should find veterans to lead their housing programs to reach those who are reluctant to get help because of “pride or PTSD issues.” Wood of the Evergreen Valley Church said that’s his plan — he wants some vets to manage and train the others.

Jennifer Loving, executive director of Destination: Home, said the new initiative is one piece of the bigger “All the Way Home” campaign which aims to house all 700 homeless vets by 2018.

“A church might not be able to house 100 people or 1,000 people, but everyone can house one,” Loving said. “If we all say ‘yes’ to one then we can do a lot together.”

For more information, send an email to info@destinationhomesv.org or go towww.allthewayhomecampaign.org.