The following OpEd was co-authored by Miguel Marquez and Jacky Morales-Ferrand. The piece was originally published by The Mercury News.
Throughout the past several months, we have seen the horrible toll of the coronavirus pandemic on the most vulnerable people in our community. For the tens of thousands of residents who were living paycheck to paycheck in Silicon Valley, the financial hardships of 2020 have pushed them even closer to the brink of homelessness. For our neighbors already living on the streets, the absolute necessity to have a safe place to stay has never been quite so clear.
Collectively, the many public, private and non-profit partners in the Santa Clara County Continuum of Care (CoC) have been working toward the goal of ensuring everyone in our community has a home. Over the past five years, we have housed more than 14,000 people. But the crisis continues to grow because the systemic factors driving homelessness are pushing more people into homelessness faster than we can house them. Even before COVID-19 hit, for every person we housed each month, two to three more found themselves without a home. It’s only likely to get worse.
We know we must do much more. We need to continue to expand successful programs and initiatives such as the homelessness prevention system, which has helped more than 1,400 families stay in their homes since its launch in 2017. We need to invest in underfunded safety net programs (such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) to ensure vulnerable residents have the resources they need to obtain and maintain housing. And we need to improve the quality of life for unsheltered individuals throughout our county and create healthy, safe neighborhoods for all.
These are just a few of the strategies embedded in the 2020-2025 Community Plan to End Homelessness, which the CoC will present to local jurisdictions this fall — starting with the county Board of Supervisors and San Jose City Council on Aug. 25. Developed with input from thousands of community members, people with lived experience, service providers and advocates, this new Community Plan will serve as a roadmap for ending homelessness in our community.
There is no single strategy or silver bullet called out in this plan; instead it is a collaborative work that seeks to end homelessness for the nearly 10,000 people in our county living outside and turn off the spigot pushing people into homelessness once and for all. No matter how many people we are able to house, we know that this crisis will not abate unless we start addressing how people become homeless in the first place.
The new plan also acknowledges the stark reality that those on the streets and in our shelters are disproportionately people of color. Homelessness is an extreme manifestation of poverty. Along the continuum of safety-net services, our supportive housing system is at the end of the line. Together, we must work to ensure our systems — from local land use laws to the criminal justice system — no longer perpetuate the centuries of structural racism that has excluded historically oppressed people from achieving stability and self-sufficiency.
Just as we have come together to respond to the daunting challenges of COVID-19, it is up to all of us to get this work done. The Community Plan is a living, breathing document owned by the community and designed to make our region a better place for every person in this valley. In the years ahead, we will need to support new affordable housing developments, advocate for meaningful policy change, and push harder when things aren’t getting done. No one agency, entity or individual can end homelessness. To do that, we all must come together and drive for lasting change.
Miguel Márquez is chief operating officer for Santa Clara County. Jacky Morales-Ferrand is the director of housing for the City of San Jose. They sit on the Steering Committee of the Santa Clara County Continuum of Care and the board of directors of Destination: Home.