Perry: Addressing homelessness in the June 7 election

More than any other issue, the upcoming June 7 primary election in Santa Clara County revolves around what to do about homelessness. The explosion of this humanitarian crisis in the wealthiest part of the world has made it impossible to ignore, and since the majority of homeless people are people of color, it is also central to our quest for racial equity. Although unfortunately few candidate platforms address the root causes of homelessness, some of them are certainly better than others.

Most of the people running for office this year can be more or less divided into two camps. One group rightly points out that the only solution is the creation and preservation of permanently affordable housing. They point the Santa Clara County Measure A Successwhich is on track to build 4,400 affordable homes, primarily for previously homeless families and individuals.

Measure A is in fact the most impactful policy ever adopted to combat homelessness in Silicon Valley. Every permanent supportive home made available to a homeless person is life-changing and a victory for our community and our humanity.

The problem with candidates in this camp is that they don’t go far enough. Their solutions are incremental, while the crisis is systemic. Homelessness in Silicon Valley has become a tidal wave engulfing our communities. It is a disaster that continues to worsen.

Unfortunately, while they seem to recognize the seriousness of the problem, the other group of candidates would take today’s terrible situation and make it worse. By minimizing permanent affordable housing, they reject the clear and obvious path out of disaster. One of them actually claims that the lack of affordable housing “is not the main reason most people end up on the streets” – despite the fact that San Jose continues year after year to meet only from a tiny fraction of its state-designated goals for affordable housing.

Another candidate argues that despite the staggering riches of Silicon Valley, we cannot afford to provide decent housing for our fellow citizens, and instead should build temporary barebones units. These will apparently be so unpleasant that the candidate says the city will have to force people to move there.

The candidate says he can enforce the city’s no-camping laws without criminalizing people, but hasn’t explained how that can be done and has in fact made expanding police forces a central part of his plan. platform. He even recommended extrajudicial detention centers for homeless people with substance abuse problems, a proposition that fortunately would not hold up in court.

The idea that temporary housing can solve a permanent shortage of affordable housing runs counter to common sense. Interim housing is fine as a temporary solution, but without a permanent housing plan, it’s not a plan at all, just a program to retrain people on a conveyor belt to nowhere.

Another candidate for city council pleaded for “relocate” homeless people, but without specifying where. Many candidates in this group also pointed to Governor Gavin Newsom’s “CARE Courts” for the seriously mentally ill as a solution to homelessness, despite the Governor’s explicit warning that CARE Courts, even if they were successful, would only help about 5% to 8% of homeless people in California.

It’s no coincidence that the leader of this “housing isn’t the problem” group is a lobbyist for the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors, because alongside big tech companies, the real estate industry is at the heart of the problem. The time has come to question the entire structure of the American system of land and real estate ownership. Only 23% of California households can afford to buy a median-priced home, and renters today are suffering from rents that, according to a recent AP report, are reaching “insane” levels nationwide.

As a real estate columnist Jonathan Lansner wrote: “If California is really serious about affordable housing – and I’m beginning to believe it isn’t – then someone in the real estate world has to accept less than they currently has.”

We cannot solve the affordable housing crisis until all the dominant players in the industry commit to continually increasing property values ​​and rents. And we cannot meet the shortage of our housing supply by relying on developers who deliberately refuse to build until rents and prices rise even more than they already are.

Likewise, we cannot address structural racism in the housing system without putting homes back in the hands of people of color who have been excluded from homeownership for hundreds of years. These reparations should be paid for by the same billionaire banks and investors who profited from decades of segregation in the first place.

These measures will require social transformation. Establishing and building a non-profit social housing sector organized around meeting human housing needs instead of corporate profit is the starting point. But on June 7, we must vote for candidates who at least pledge to do no harm.

The issue of homelessness boils down to two opposing ways of posing the problem. Either our current housing system is fundamentally flawed, and we must correct it by moving towards sustainable affordable housing for all. Or the problem is simply bad or defective people, and the solution is detention or some form of relocation.

The main issue on June 7 is who we really are as a city and county, and what our values ​​are. The problem is not the people. People are the solution. Human life – and all life – is sacred and precious and deserves to be treated with dignity. The problem lies in our way of thinking and in the unjust and racist systems we have built. The time has come to prioritize building caring communities over personal economic gain.

Sandy Perry has been a volunteer and spokesperson with the San Jose Homeless and Low Income Service for over 30 years.

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