San José Opens Cooling Centers for Residents Today & Tomorrow, August 14 & 15

From: http://www.sanjoseca.gov/civicalerts.aspx?AID=2560

The Department of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services will open five community centers to provide residents with safe and cool places for refuge today and tomorrow, August 14 and 15, 2019. The community centers will extend operating hours to 9:00 p.m. The participating community centers are Camden, Cypress, Mayfair, Roosevelt and Seven Trees.

More info: https://files.constantcontact.com/7a210436601/8967010f-a916-43bd-b429-1117fd984402.pdf

Editorial: Growing homeless crisis could spur awareness needed to solve it

Originally posted on SF Chronicle here

A defining part of homeless policy is frustration. The Bay Area numbers worsen, public sentiment wavers, and local leaders scramble for quick answers such as parking lots for rundown RVs or tiny cabins to replace tents.

But that’s not the full picture of a social catastrophe that must be healed. More than ever, there is broad awareness, that critical quality that can open the way for solutions. No corner of San Francisco is free from the sight of sprawled bodies, makeshift camps, or tin cup panhandlers. Homelessness is a shared worry, and that should be a starting point for serious work.

This week The Chronicle will explore the changes, both positive and negative, in life on the streets. The series will offer a close look at the mix of people mired in homelessness, answer questions on the topic and offer ways for readers to help.

More must be done, especially with the $300 million in city funds devoted to the problem. A one-night count pegged the population at 9,784, a figure that’s jumped from previous levels partly because of new measurements but also because more people are without shelter. The number takes in street sleepers along with others in shelters, jails and hospitals. The last head count showed an unhoused population of 7,499. The worsening numbers are also felt in San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

The surge in local homelessness isn’t typical of elsewhere. Seattle, whose booming economy and housing pressures are often compared with the Bay Area’s, saw a 7.4% decline in its homeless population over the past two years. Homelessness during that period fell more than 18% in the Las Vegas area, nearly 10% in Miami-Dade County, Fla., and 12% in the Washington, D.C., region.

While a few areas, including Dallas and Phoenix, saw substantial increases in homelessness over the past two years, the sheer numbers in San Francisco are alarming. Nearly 1% of the city’s population is homeless under the federal definition, or more than five times the national rate. The city has more homeless people than the state of Maryland has.

Such high and rapidly increasing rates of homelessness are as unique to California as the gravity of the state’s housing shortage. The details of San Francisco’s latest figures also point to the housing deficit. More of the city’s homeless are employed, and more are citing high rents as a primary cause of their homelessness.

Expanding homeless care will take courage and common sense. As a planned 200-bed Navigation Center on the Embarcadero shows, neighbors can be furious, worried about crime and blight. But there are counter examples that show little impact when a similar plan is tried. Residents and businesses near centers in the Civic Center and Dogpatch report little trouble. A youth foster care facility on Lombard Street in the Marina was opposed by neighbors but hasn’t brought on the predicted problems.

Extended Hours for Cooling Centers Saturday, July 27 & Sunday, July 28

Extremely hot weather can result in heatstroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, sunburn, heat rash, and in some instances death. Please take safety measures to stay safe and lend a helping hand to family, friends and neighbors. If you know of a vulnerable person without air conditioning, such as an elderly or infirm neighbor or someone with a drug or alcohol disorder or severe mental illness, please help them get to a cooling center or other air conditioned space between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. If you see someone on the street who may be having a reaction to the heat, please help get them to a cooling center or call 911. Thank you for doing your part to keep people safe during a heat crisis.

Cooling Centers Information

A cooling center is an air-conditioned facility where residents can go to find relief from extreme heat.
During periods of extreme hot weather, Santa Clara County residents can take advantage of cooling centers in libraries, community and senior centers, and other public facilities throughout the County.

https://www.sccgov.org/sites/oes/residents/Pages/cooling-centers.aspx

Hot Weather Safety Information

Keep cool and safe with these hot weather tips from the County of Santa Clara Public Health Department:

Hot Weather Safety Tips

  • Drink plenty of water: Drink water even if you don’t feel thirsty. Avoid alcohol, caffeine or lots of sugar because they will speed up fluid loss.

  • Limit physical activity: Avoid physical activity during the hottest time of the day—10 a.m.-3 p.m.

  • Never leave people or pets in a closed, parked car.

  • Stay in air-conditioned areas: Help keep cool by spending time at malls, libraries, movie theatres and community centers.

  • Cool off by taking a bath or shower: Cool, plain water baths or moist towels work best. Do not cool children in alcohol baths.

  • Wear cool clothing: Lightweight, light-colored and loose-fitting clothing can help you keep cool. Cotton clothes are good because they let sweat evaporate.

  • Do not bundle babies: Babies do not handle heat well because their sweat glands are not fully developed. Do not put them in blankets or heavy clothing.

  • Cover your head: Wear a wide-brimmed, vented hat or use an umbrella when outdoors because your head absorbs heat easily.

  • Wear sunglasses and sunscreen: Use sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher when outdoors.

  • Rest often in shady areas: Find shady places to cool down when outdoors.

  • Check on frail or elderly family, friends, or neighbors often.

Older adults and individuals with chronic medical conditions:

  • During peak heat hours stay in an air-conditioned area. If you do not have access to air conditioning in your home, visit public facilities such as cooling centers, shopping malls, parks, and libraries to stay cool.

  • Older adults and those on certain medications may not exhibit signs of dehydration until several hours after dehydration sets in. Stay hydrated by frequently drinking cool water. If you’re on a special diet that limits liquids, check with your doctor for information on the amount of water to consume.

  • Stay out of the sun if you do not need to be in it. When in the sun, wear a hat, preferably with a wide brim, and loose-fitting, light-colored clothing with long sleeves and pants to protect against sun damage. And remember to use sun screen and to wear sunglasses.

Infants and Children:

  • It is illegal to leave an infant or child unattended in a vehicle (California Vehicle Code Section 15620).

  • Infants and young children can get dehydrated very quickly. Make sure they are given plenty of cool water to drink.

  • Keep children indoors or shaded as much as possible.

  • Dress children in loose, lightweight, and light-colored clothing.

Cooling Center Locations in Santa Clara County (Updated 6/10/19)

During extreme heat incidents, residents should seek out air-conditioned spaces including shopping malls, community centers and public libraries. Santa Clara County Libraries are available as cooling centers during regular operating hours. County libraries are located in Campbell, Cupertino, Gilroy, Los Altos, Milpitas, Morgan Hill and Saratoga.  Library locations and hours of operation. Cooling centers for cities and towns within Santa Clara County are listed below:

Kalaniketan School of Indian Music and Dance Recital Benefits HomeFirst

Every year, under the guidance of their Artistic Director, Guru. Smt. Preetha Sheshadri, the students of Kalaniketan School of Indian Music and Dance come together to put on a performance that highlights the skills that they have learned in the past year. This year’s production took place on May 27, 2019, and featured a fusion of Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam dance. The theme of the program was “Theerth Yatra,” a pilgrimage across some of the most popular temples in India.

This year, a few of the senior students at this school decided to take on the initiative of using this production as an opportunity to make a positive impact on the community by raising funds for a charity. Considering how lack of housing is such a prevalent issue in this area, they decided that HomeFirst would be the ideal organization to be on the receiving end of this charitable act. All students and parents of this school put in tireless hours of commitment and dedication in learning the pieces, going to rehearsals, and organizing the event in order to have everything run smoothly the day of the event, but it was all worth it seeing their efforts result in such a beautiful display of culture and talent. Furthermore, the ability to contribute to the betterment of the community in addition to being able to enjoy such captivating performances made this experience extremely memorable.

With the contributions of so many people and the sponsorship by Shastha Foods, Mahi’s Invesco, Mangoes Indian Cuisine, they raised $3,135 towards combating homelessness in the Santa Clara County. They hope to continue the growth of their program and look forward to many more opportunities to aid the community.    

$1 billon Google Plans aims to ease Bay Area housing crisis

MOUNTAIN VIEW — Google on Tuesday announced a stunning $1 billion commitment to ease the Bay Area’s housing crisis, pledging to add about 20,000 homes across the region.

It is the largest single commitment from a tech company to fight the housing shortage that threatens to stall the economic engine of Silicon Valley, as even well-paid workers wrestle with escalating rents or finding a home to buy.

“We look forward to working with Google to ensure today’s announcement manifests into housing that will benefit thousands of San Jose residents struggling under the burden of high rents,” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said in a statement.

The initiative comes as Google faces enormous pressure to alleviate the impact of its rapid growth, particularly as it plans a transit-oriented mixed-use campus in downtown San Jose where 15,000 to 20,000 of its employees would work.

“I applaud Google’s leadership for stepping forward to build affordable homes for California’s working families,” Gov. Gavin Newsom stated in a Twitter post. “I hope today’s announcement inspires other companies — big and small — to make similar direct investments in housing affordability throughout our state.”

Other tech companies have made financial contributions to housing, but nothing on this scale.

In January, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the San Francisco Foundation, Facebook, Genentech, and others announced a new $500 million fund to build or preserve more than 8,000 homes in five Bay Area counties over the next five to 10 years. Microsoft has committed $500 million to build affordable housing and tackle homelessness in the Seattle area, and Wells Fargo recently said it would spend $1 billion for affordable housing as part of a broader national philanthropic push.

But Google, in an unusual turn, said in a blog post it would spend $750 million to build housing on its own land.

Aimed at freeing up space for 15,000 homes, the  process could take up to 10 years. Google would work with cities to rezone land that is mostly designated now for office or commercial uses. In 2018, 3,000 homes were built in the South Bay, Google noted.

While Google has not specified where the homes would be built, the company has already taken preliminary steps to create potential housing sites that would flank its future mega-campuses in downtown San Jose, northern Sunnyvale, and north Mountain View. In all of these areas, Google has assembled sufficient parcels that the company could provide stretches of land for homes within walking distance of its offices of tomorrow. In Mountain View, Google already is helping develop up to 8,000 homes near its Googleplex.

The tech titan also will create a $250 million investment fund that will enable developers to build at least 5,000 affordable housing units across the region, according to the blog post from Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive officer.

The announcement comes as groups like Working Partnerships USA, a labor-backed organization, have raised concerns that Google’s foray into San Jose could trigger gentrification and displacement.

“It’s encouraging to see Google taking the concerns of local communities seriously by recognizing some responsibility for its role in our region’s housing crisis,” Jeffrey Buchanan, the group’s director of public policy, said in a statement.

In a report published last week, Working Partnerships pressed Google to commit to helping build more than 17,000 homes in San Jose to help ensure tenants won’t be saddled with an estimated $235 million in rent hikes by 2030, the approximate completion date for Google’s transit village near the Diridon train station.

“Today, more than 45,000 of our employees call the Bay Area home,”  Pichai wrote. “Across the region, one issue stands out as particularly urgent and complex: housing.”

The tech titan’s quest is a remarkable effort, said Carl Guardino, president of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, whose members include all of the region’s major tech employers.

“Google has clearly shown they are a company that believes in ‘Yes in our backyard’ and will donate their own backyard to make it happen,” Guardino said.

In San Jose alone, Google’s deals could bring the Bay Area’s largest city 22,000 to 27,000 new tech jobs.

In addition to the neighborhood near the Diridon train station in the city’s downtown district, consisting of office buildings, homes, shops, and restaurants, the search behemoth has plans in north San Jose. There, near the city’s airport, Google has leased four big office buildings where another 3,600 could work. And near San Jose’s Alviso district, the company has bought five office buildings where 3,500 more could be employed. Google also has bought three giant industrial buildings near Alviso.

Google hasn’t specified what the mix of new construction and renovation will be, so it’s difficult to evaluate how many units of housing the $1 billion will actually fund.

Still, the announcement could help satisfy a commitment the company made to San Jose to include affordable housing in its development near Diridon Station. But it doesn’t absolve Google of other commitments. For instance, if the city passes a commercial impact fee — a fee paid by companies to help fund affordable housing — Google would still be obliged to contribute to that fund.

And while San Jose’s planning department has resisted some attempts to rezone its shrinking supply of industrial land, Liccardo has also called for some 25,000 units of housing to be built in the city in the next several years.

“The housing crisis is the effect of the Bay Area being an economy that is the envy of the world,” said Jim Wunderman, president of the Bay Area Council. “It’s reasonable that we are seeing major institutions like Google stepping up to the next level to help.”

Google said that it hopes the first new homes can be quickly launched.

“In Mountain View, we’ve already worked with the city to change zoning in the North Bayshore area to free up land for housing, and we’re currently in productive conversations with Sunnyvale and San Jose,” Pichai stated.

How easily could this happen? San Jose’s mayor noted that some challenges could arise in connection with the shrinking number of available sites that are suitable for office, research, or industrial development, especially in jobs-poor communities such as his city. Liccardo said he’s had discussions about these situations with Google’s top real estate executives.

“We do need more resources and we also need smaller cities, particularly our suburbs, to step up in a big way,” Liccardo said. He added, “That means they have to have a willingness to build the housing within their city limits, and right now there are too few cities with a willingness to build the housing.”

Sundar Pichai, Google CEO, appears at an non-profit-organized event in Mountain View in 2017. Google on Tuesday embarked on a wide-ranging quest to invest $1 billion on a series of initiatives to ease the Bay Area’s brutal housing crisis — including rezoning some office and commercial sites for housing.  By   George Avalos   |  gavalos@bayareanewsgroup.com  and   Emily DeRuy   |  ederuy@bayareanewsgroup.com  | Bay Area News Group  PUBLISHED: June 18, 2019 at 9:00 am | UPDATED: June 19, 2019 at 8:10 am

Sundar Pichai, Google CEO, appears at an non-profit-organized event in Mountain View in 2017. Google on Tuesday embarked on a wide-ranging quest to invest $1 billion on a series of initiatives to ease the Bay Area’s brutal housing crisis — including rezoning some office and commercial sites for housing.

By George Avalos | gavalos@bayareanewsgroup.com and Emily DeRuy | ederuy@bayareanewsgroup.com | Bay Area News Group

PUBLISHED: June 18, 2019 at 9:00 am | UPDATED: June 19, 2019 at 8:10 am

Hope and Mercy Community Resource Consortium Opens in Mountain View

SAN JOSE – A new consortium of homeless resources – including a cold weather shelter, a kitchen for a homeless job training program, an expanded meal program, showers, and on-site case management services – has opened at Trinity United Methodist Church in Mountain View.

“Private sector, public sector, community non-profits and the faith community – everybody doing their part. We’re doing together what none of us could do alone,” said Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian. “With funding from the County, City of Mountain View, and Google, and the Church as host, non-profit providers can provide shelter, serve thousands of meals, offer job-training programs, and care for homeless and low-income folks in the North County.”

With the remodeled facilities, a suite of services for Mountain View’s homeless and low-income population will be possible, including:

·        A cold-weather shelter for single women and families, run by HomeFirst and funded by the County;

·        A dramatically expanded meal program, run by Hope’s Corner;

·        A culinary job training program using the kitchen, funded by the County;

·        Facilities to offer free showers, run by Hope’s Corner;

·        A Family Resource Center, operated by CHAC, providing parenting classes and educational activities for families with young children; and,

·        On site case management to help people move out of homelessness, provided by the Community Services Agency.

The new facilities are made possible in part through a $1 million grant from Google, as well as funding from the County, City, and other sources. The funding helped cover the creation of a commercial grade kitchen, which allows for the expanded meal program and culinary job training program.

“As our region continues to prosper, people of modest means are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet,” said Simitian. “Having a single location where folks can get a meal, find a warm place to lay their heads, and get job-training will be a true game changer.”

Simitian noted that homelessness is up dramatically in the county. In Mountain View, homelessness increased 51% between 2015 and 2017; and food insecurity is prevalent and increasing, reaching 27% in Santa Clara County.

“Google is proud to provide funding to finally make this facility a reality,” said Google Public Affairs Manager Javier Gonzalez. “It will provide vital services to those who need them most in our community.”

Recognizing the need for additional services in Mountain View, Trinity United Methodist Church opened their space and their sanctuary to host a variety of services aimed at homeless and low-income individuals and families, while still holding regular church services. In 2017, HomeFirst began operating a cold weather shelter for single women and families with children, which is funded by the County.

The Church also houses Hope’s Corner, a non-profit which has served weekly meals and provided showers to homeless individuals at the Church for six years. Hope’s Corner currently provides free Saturday breakfasts and bag lunches, free showers on Thursdays and Saturdays, and serves approximately 200 guests each week. Those numbers will go up, however, with the enhancements to the church’s kitchen.

“We are grateful for the support we have received from our donors, the County, and the City to be able to improve the services we have been providing to the most vulnerable in our community,” said Leslie Carmichael, President of Hope’s Corner. “These new facilities will enable us to improve our meal and shower programs and expand our collaborations with other organizations to reach even deeper into the community.”

Trinity United Methodist Church also hosts a Family Resource Center operated by Community Health Awareness Council (CHAC) and First Five, providing regular parenting classes, educational activities for young children, and other services for young families in a variety of languages.

Mountain View Community Services Agency (CSA) also has case managers on site while the shelter is open, as well as every Thursday during Hope’s Corner’s shower program hours.

County funding will allow HomeFirst to continue to run the shelter, and will be used to run the job training program.

“We’ve got an incredible community of people here, all doing their part to help people in need and address the issue of homelessness,” said Simitian. “These new resources bring all of those folks together, and make it easier for people to find the help they need, whatever that may be.”

Pictured here: Stephanie Demos, HomeFirst; Dinari Brown, Hunger at Home; Javier Gonzalez, Google; Eileen Richardson, Downtown Streets Team; Ewell Sterner, Hunger at Home.

Pictured here: Stephanie Demos, HomeFirst; Dinari Brown, Hunger at Home; Javier Gonzalez, Google; Eileen Richardson, Downtown Streets Team; Ewell Sterner, Hunger at Home.

Groundbreaking Held for New 135-Unit 100 Percent Affordable Housing Project

City, State and County Officials gathered on Friday, April 19th to break ground on one of San Jose's largest affordable housing complexes. This new development will bring 135, 100% affordable units to the downtown area. It will be the first in San Jose to set aside 55 units specifically for chronically homeless veterans, and HomeFirst will partner as the service provider.

This project is being developed by First Community Housing; CEO Geoffrey Morgan is pictured below along with San Jose City Councilmembers, Raul Perales and Johnny Khamis; CA State Senator, Jim Beall; San Jose Mayor, Sam Licardo; and Santa Clara Supervisor, Cindy Chavez.

Affordable Housing Ground Breaking

MORE PICS: Unveiling of BRC shelter guest restrooms and shower

It’s been a week since we officially unveiled the new BRC shelter guest rooms and shower, and wanted to share more pictures from the renovation. Check out the before and after below and here, too.

Doesn’t it look so amazing?!

We are so thankful for everyone involved in this pro bono renovation, especially Cheryl at HomeAid Northern California, Michelle at Hallmark Building and Design, Jeff at Pulte Construction and Anson at XL Construction.

Thank you again so much for your generosity, hard work and thoughtfulness! We, including our guests, are forever grateful!

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“Before” the renovation.

“Before” the renovation.

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Pics: Official Unveiling of BRC shelter guest restrooms and shower

Last Friday, HomeFirst celebrated the official unveiling of the renovated shelter guest restrooms and shower at the BRC, and the completed project looks amazing!!!

All of these amazing companies worked pro bono, and we are all so grateful for all of your hard work this past year: XL Construction, Pulte Homes, Hallmark Building & Development in Sacramento, HomeAid Northern California, Western Allied Mechanical, Inc., Cupertino Electric, Inc., Natural Stone and Tile Care in Rocklin, Nor-cal Specialties, Inc., Nor Cal Portables, and Premiere Recycle in San Jose!

Thank you so much again, we are so thankful and blessed to have so many wonderful and supportive partners in the community!

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HomeFirst at 2019 SPUR Impact Awards

The SPUR 2019 Impact Awards honored public sector employees in city and county government in Santa Clara County who are making a difference within government and the community at large in the areas of housing, transportation, placemaking and urban design, and sustainability and resilience last Friday at the Computer History Museum.

HomeFirst's CDO Stephanie Demos and Volunteer Coordinator Jaclyn Salinas represented HomeFirst at the event.

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Building kits with Splunk!

HomeFirst CDO Stephanie Demos spent the afternoon yesterday with Splunk’s International Finance team assembling kits for our clients, which included men’s and women's sweats, socks, underwear and more, as well as water and snack kits. Every kit includes a note of encouragement.

Thank you Splunk for volunteering to put together these very important kits that our Outreach team brings to the field each day!

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VIDEO: NetApp honors HomeFirst clients on International Women's Day

In honor of International Women's Day last Friday, NetApp volunteered to assemble hundreds of feminine hygiene kits for our female shelter guests and outreach teams to use and give out.

HomeFirst Chief Development Officer Stephanie Demos spoke with the volunteers about the important volunteer work NetApp is doing for the community, and how women in Santa Clara County get sick or even die because of bad personal feminine hygiene.

Thank you again to the NetApp and Women In Technology volunteers, we are so grateful for your help and time!

🎥 by Anne Browne

HomeFirst celebrates 2+ years with City of San Jose, Bridge Housing Community Project team

The City of San Jose, HomeFirst, Habitat for Humanity Silicon Valley/East Bay and Advocate Bridge Housing Community Project team celebrated over two years of working together to bring this important project to fruition today.

The first Bridge Housing site will have residents moving in late June this year!

Go Bridge Housing team, let’s keep ending homelessness together!

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Strong partners: HomeFirst, Second Harvest Food Bank and Starbucks

Thank you Second Harvest Food Bank for all of your support, and for being a wonderful community partner!

Thank you for also sharing the following: "HomeFirst Services shelter runs a nightly pick up route, rescuing approximately 450 pounds of nutritious Starbucks sandwiches, salads and bistro boxes every night! On January 25th, HomeFirst received a new refrigeration unit as a part of Starbucks’ Capacity Grant to maximize their storage needs. Second Harvest was happy to help HomeFirst apply for this grant opportunity and expand their shelter’s ability to serve as many people as possible. We are fortunate to be working with amazing partners like HomeFirst and Starbucks!"

Pictured: HomeFirst’s Orlando Rivas and Chef Paul with Melissa Gaherty of Second Harvest Food Bank.

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HomeFirst responds to letter from a local homeless activist

Op-Ed: Solving Homelessness Requires Empathy, Collaboration

By Stephanie Demos

Every opportunity to shine the spotlight on the plight of homelessness—no matter the season, no matter the weather—is not only welcome, it’s necessary. It is far too easy to make assumptions about the people who are living unhoused and about those who have chosen to work on solutions. It is counterproductive to trivialize the work we do with barbs such as “Little Torture” and “PR stunt.” It is impossible to demand empathy.

The original op-ed began asking the reader to image the conditions on the streets right now. We don’t have to imagine what it is like, because it a reality we face every day in our work. HomeFirst outreach teams were out every day, all day last week to warn anyone living along a potential flood zone of the impending danger of the forecast storms. The ideal outcome is to bring the individual or group (with beloved pets) back to the shelter—to a safe, warm space to sleep along with meals and access to supportive services.

While those defined as “chronically homeless” are but a small percentage of the total number of unhoused, the reasons for chronic homelessness are highly individual, sometimes, but not always a result of mental illness or substance use, sometimes a result of abuse, sometimes a fear of living in close contact with strangers. This is the stereotype.

We, along with the city of San Jose, Santa Clara County and a long list of service providers, choose to offer services and shelter in the hope that consistent contact may build trust. We make wellness checks, offer water, snacks, hygiene kits, dry clothes, blankets and more.

That is why HomeFirst has hosted a memorial service every year since 1999, the heart of which is the reading of the names of everyone who died unhoused the previous year. On February 13, we read 158 names and birthdates.  Each name represents a whole person, no matter how long or short their life.  For each there is a life story and where possible we included an anecdote to focus on that life, that story.

Petre Strezoski was remembered by a coworker as “truly a joy to work with. He was always happy and positive. He was quick to smile and offer a joke or a snack if you were tired. He was even patient enough to put up with me trying to learn Macedonian.”

Max Zizumbo was born in San Jose, graduated from Yerba Buena High School and joined the US Army in 1989.  He served in the Gulf War.  He was a fan of the SF Giants and the Dallas Cowboys.

Jake Maldonaldo (b. June 29, 2018) and Bernadette Pereira (b. April 24, 2018) died as infants, infants without a place to call home.  This is not acceptable in our community.

It is, frankly, obscene that 94-year old Florence Leung and 88-year old Gunter Barth, died homeless at such an advanced and vulnerable age. We can do better.

All 158 were remembered, because all 158 mattered.

We are proud that six of our board members volunteered to be readers this year—proud of their passion for the mission and for any opportunity to be of service. This is a moving and meaningful experience for each of them. Because we work hand-in-hand with local elected officials on solutions such as the Bridge Housing Project, the elected officials who enact policy are always an integral part of our public events.

The day of the service was cold and rainy so overnight guests of the Boccardo Reception Center on Little Orchard where the service was held, were invited to stay indoors all day.  (Typically, shelter guests vacate the Boccardo Reception Center (BRC) in the morning and return in the late afternoon, enabling staff to complete the vital daily deep cleaning and disinfecting that keeps the facility safe for our vulnerable population. Only those using the veterans center or too sick to be up and about are inside for lunch which is served at noon to preserve the routine.)

Every guest of every shelter HomeFirst operates is welcome to attend the memorial service, as are volunteers, community leaders, fellow service providers and anyone who is homeless. Save-the-date postcards and numerous on-line reminders were sent to more than 1,000 individuals. Numerous announcements were made throughout the day at the BRC. There were, in fact, homeless guests in attendance, but we gave everyone the choice of whether to participate or not.

As one guests said, “Honey, I face death every day. There’s no way I want to sit here and have it in my face.”

Among the suggestions we’ve already received are to distribute flyers and posters at all shelter facilities, to offer transportation to and from the BRC, and to begin the service at 2pm rather than noon.

San Jose’s Overnight Warming Locations (OWL) are managed by HomeFirst on a day-by-day basis but activated by the city. Originally there were four sites with one just for families. As of Jan. 13, no one had visited the Alum Rock family site so we focused on the remaining three locations: Leninger, Bascom and Roosevelt. Since Dec, 24, the OWLs have been activated for 30 nights with a total of 1,699 overnight stays. The maximum capacity of 30 beds per site has been reached seven times at the Bascom site and 18 nights at the Roosevelt site.

Last year, a guest at one of the OWLs told me, “This place saved my life. It was so cold last night I thought I’d freeze to death. Thank you for making this a warm, safe space.”

With more than 7,300 homeless people in our county, we need people and organizations to work together to drastically reduce this number. We need creativity and cooperation.

The way the Valley Transportation Authority’s Route 22 (aka Hotel 22) has been used by many unhoused people seeking overnight respite is truly creative, and for that we are grateful. HomeFirst has aligned with others to lobby for the continuation of this service, yet ultimately it is the VTA’s decision.

The number one reason for homelessness is job loss and the longer the episode of homelessness the longer it takes to get back on one’s feet. Among the recurrent reasons that unhoused people eschew shelters is past experience with domestic violence, PTSD, traumatic brain injury and other conditions that makes a large, loud facility with strangers especially threatening.

For those who believe homelessness is solely the result of laziness, a desire to work the system, or such, we are unlikely to dispel those notions. Yet, we are grateful for the many who are solution-focused and will continue to work with them until our resources meet the need—the need to find affordable housing for those who are literally priced out of Silicon Valley and the need for shelter designed to meet the various levels of care needed by our most fragile and vulnerable neighbors.

Every day I see the enormous empathy that drives so many to work tirelessly on this issue. There are stereotypes to dispel, misinformation to address and personal agendas to consider; but if we are generous enough to acknowledge one another for efforts—large and small, the odds of making a lasting difference will be greatly increased.

To anyone who wishes to be part of the solution, please feel free to contact me.

Stephanie Demos is the chief development office of HomeFirst. Opinions in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to jenniferw@metronews.com.

Navy Veteran Housed on Valentine's Day!

Navy Veteran Robin was housed last week on Valentine's Day! Here he is pictured at the BRC, ready to leave with his keys and move-in kit. Robin served in the Navy from 1957 to 1966.

According to Callie Gregg, HomeFirst VESP SC Outreach/Case manager, Robin made people smile and laugh. "He made sure any new veteran that came to HomeFirst would be welcomed warmly," shared Callie, who helped house Robin in three months with the help of Jose Toledo, HomeFirst VESP Housing Specialist.

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