Other Voices: Communities can choose to end homelessness

The League of Women Voters’ Feb. 8 forum addressing the increasing numbers of RVs parked along Mountain View streets left a few things out. The biggest thing left out was homeless input. This is typical of local attitudes toward homeless issues and homeless people.

We are almost always left out. That’s one big reason why homeless services are not very effective.

The Clara-Mateo Alliance women’s shelter in Menlo Park was closed for repair and rehabilitation a few years ago. It has not reopened. In the past few years until very recently, the total number of shelter beds locally has decreased.

There was no homeless input in the decision to replace the shelter in the Sunnyvale National Guard Armory building when it was destroyed a few years ago. There was no homeless input in the decision to replace the cold-weather shelter the armory provided until five people died of exposure in Palo Alto in December 2013. Still there was no homeless input solicited by any municipal official or other decision-making body.

There is male, white paternalism and patriarchy at work here. Those in power (those elected and those employed) think of themselves as superior to homeless people and believe that homeless people are a danger, an invasion and a problem – unable to solve problems. We are also assumed to be lazy, drug-addicted, mentally deranged and not seen as any kind of a contribution.

As for contributions, we make them. We work like housed folks do, just for lower pay that doesn’t afford us enough to pay rent. We do jobs that housed folks need done, or at least want someone else to do: hard yard work, hospital work, kitchen work, house work, education (I’m a substitute teacher), construction and lots of service jobs.

Some greedy folk worry their taxes might go for services for the poor. They want more tax cuts. If we don’t save them from their greed and selfishness, they’ll soon find out that they can’t eat money, and that the poverty that has resulted from corporate and wealthy greed is spreading to them as well.

Already the cloud of poverty has enveloped not only the working poor, but also the lower and middle members of the middle class. It will not stop unless we do something about it. We all have to help. We can end homelessness. Phoenix did, Utah did, Medicine Hat in Canada did. You just have to decide you want to and then roll up your sleeves and do it.

After the flooding last year of Coyote Creek in San Jose, Habitat for Humanity helped rebuild 54 flood-damaged houses. Did you lend a hand? Neither did I. But we can. We can sign up to help from now on.

What about volunteering at a church that feeds the hungry? Or at a church that has a shelter program? Give money to the Downtown Streets Team or some other group that actually helps homeless people – as opposed to some organizations that talk about helping but really are no help.

The worst are organizations whose employees make it very clear to you that if you’re a homeless person applying for their help, you have to do a lot of humble begging before you’ve proven you’re worthy of their help. We call them “poverty pimps.”

A homeless guy called in an alarm when a fire broke out in the middle of the night and saved more than $40,000 a few years ago. His good deed was documented in the Daily Post.

I know homeless men who make a point of cleaning up where they camped the night before. Others imitate them and clean up where they spend the night and then some. These are contributions, too.

Homeless people did not select being homeless. They (we) only choose homelessness when we have no better choices.

We all have choices. We – those with homes and those without – can help, volunteer, care enough to take action. If we do have the will, the problem can be solved as other problems have been solved.

This is the headquarters of solving difficult problems. There are plenty of innovation, design, programming and financing opportunities here in Silicon Valley. Other places with fewer resources have ended homelessness. If we don’t solve it here and now, it’s a lack of political will, of caring, of belief, and a lack of concern for our brothers and sisters.

Chuck Jagoda, a Sunnyvale resident, was homeless from 2009 to 2013. He spoke at the Feb. 8 League of Women Voters forum in Mountain View addressing the growing problem of homeless residents and vehicle dwellers.

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