CSA's 'Hometown Heroes' support efforts to combat homelessness in Bay Area

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Zoe Morgan/Town Crier
Tom Myers, second from right, honors Community Services Agency’s “Hometown Heroes” award winners – from left, Curtis Church, Shion O’Connor, Mary Prochnow and Mallory Burke.

In recent years, the Bay Area housing crisis has become a top public policy issue at both the state and local level. However, it isn’t just on the minds of politicians and government officials – nonprofit groups are seeing the crisis firsthand.

At Community Services Agency’s annual “Hometown Heroes” fundraising breakfast Sept. 12, the group’s staff told the assembled crowd about the challenges and changes CSA is dealing with in the local community, including a spike in homelessness.

The nonprofit CSA provides direct services to those in need in Mountain View, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.

At the annual breakfast, CSA honors local individuals, businesses and organizations for their contributions to both CSA and the broader community.

This year, the nonprofit honored former Los Altos Mayor Mary Prochnow, software company Atlassian and the Mountain View Central Seventh-day Adventist Church.

“It takes all of us coming together to build our community and serve those in need,” CSA Executive Director Tom Myers said.

Challenges seen locally

The number of people in need has been on the rise, Myers said, citing the county’s 2019 Homeless Point-in-Time Count.

Nearly 10,000 people are homeless in Santa Clara County, according to the most recent biennial count. That’s a 31% increase since 2017.

In Mountain View, the number of homeless individuals increased from 416 to 606 people, a 46% increase in two years. Los Altos is experiencing a spike as well.

“For those of us who live in Los Altos in this room and think that we’re immune to the situation that’s going on – there are now 76 people that were counted as homeless in Los Altos in 2019,” Myers told the crowd.

In 2017, there were only six.

CSA is seeing the spike in homelessness directly. Last year, the number of homeless clients the nonprofit served increased by 18%.

Myers acknowledged that the problems tie into contentious political issues, noting the debate over a safe parking ordinance and oversized vehicle ban in Mountain View, as well as disputes over housing density in Los Altos.

“As CSA, first and foremost we must fulfill our mission to provide our services to the most vulnerable people in the community,” Myers said. “That’s why we exist and that’s what we must do first. But we must also serve everyone in our communities by being a voice of knowledge, a voice of reason and a voice of empathy.”

CSA Associate Director Nicole Fargo Nosich said the agency has been “flooded” with requests for emergency financial assistance, in particular to help pay for rent and utilities.

She also noted that several apartment complexes that housed low-income individuals have been recently demolished, with more slated to be torn down to make way for higher-end dwellings.

“This year in particular has underscored how much the affordable housing crisis has impacted our community,” Fargo Nosich said.

To help vulnerable residents, CSA provides support including a food and nutrition center, senior case management, emergency financial assistance and services for the homeless.

Honoring local ‘heroes’

The individuals and groups that last week’s breakfast recognized have helped CSA provide those services, as well as supported other efforts around the area.

“The people who we honor are more than just supporters of CSA,” Myers said. “They’re supporters of the community at large. We think of it as an honor that goes way beyond who we are at CSA.”

Prochnow, one of this year’s “Hometown Heroes,” has long been involved in the local community. In addition to serving on CSA’s board in the 1990s, Prochnow was on the Los Altos City Council from 2014 to 2018, including a 2017 stint as mayor.

She is also a longtime member of the Rotary Club of Los Altos and is a realtor who has lived and worked in Los Altos for four decades.

Atlassian is a global software company based in Sydney, Australia, but with an office in Mountain View. Over the past two years, Atlassian employees have partnered with CSA on a regular basis, volunteering in a variety of capacities.

The Mountain View Central Seventh-day Adventist Church is the host site for CSA’s Empty Bowls soup supper fundraiser, which supports homeless clients. The church was also the organizer of the inaugural Empty Bowls event in 1990.

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