Mayor: San Jose must tackle homelessness crisis and make difficult decisions

San Jose must make a serious effort to combat homelessness in the subsequent 12 months, San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan said Saturday, calling the issue the “biggest crisis” facing the Bay Area's largest city.

He made this call to motion in his annual State of the City address, which took place at an event on a lawn on the Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose.

“Our greatest crisis, the humanitarian, environmental and financial crisis of homelessness” have to be San José’s top priority, said Mayor Mahan in his State of the City address.

“Over the next year, we will remove over 1,000 more people from unsafe situations who would otherwise continue to live on our streets and along our waterways,” Mahan said, particularly the estimated 500 individuals who live in “life-threatening situations” along our waterways.

San Jose officials, including the town attorney, have raised the troubling prospect that the municipality could face fines and lawsuits from the Regional Water Board or other agencies over pollution and disruption of waterways attributable to nearby homeless encampments.

“Ultimately, it's very simple,” Mahan said during a press conference before the event. “We should provide people with safe, dignified places, and when those are available, we should require people to come off the streets.”

New solutions being considered include secure sleeping spaces for the homeless, an approach that’s starting to bear fruit in San Diego.

Still, the trail is difficult at best, as San Jose faces the grim reality of a $55 million budget deficit in the approaching weeks and months.

“We will be more focused, more innovative and more practical than in previous years,” Mahan said, referring to the query of how solutions might be developed at a time of tight city funds.

Mahan pointed to an initial estimate of $15 million to create a secure car parking zone in Berryessa County, noting that San Jose political leaders pushed city staff, including the Department of Public Works, to search out an answer that may cut the fee in half.

The solutions have to be quite a few and far-reaching, he said.

“Simple safe places to sleep with sanitation and security and connection to case management, secure parking, modular units, converted motel rooms, permanently affordable and permanently supported housing” are a part of the “range of solutions” for homelessness, Mahan said throughout the press conference.

The mayor pointed to quick-to-build modular units which have helped significantly reduce San Jose's homeless population for the primary time in a decade. Since 2017, prevention programs in San Jose have saved nearly 4,000 households from homelessness, he claimed.

City Councilman Omar Torres pointed to signs of progress in an interview with this news organization after the event. “The full range of tools we use to end homelessness are working: building affordable housing, building transitional housing, cleaning our streets, that helps,” he said.

Over the subsequent 12 months, San Jose plans to greater than double the variety of rapid-build units by opening 628 of those latest modular housing units, including 150 bunkhouses in Via Del Oro, the town's first rapid-build community on private land.

The city also plans to open a brand new secure car parking zone to get greater than 100 vehicles that live there off the streets, the mayor said.

There can be progress in recruiting cops, he said. “For the first time in five years, we are seeing an increase in applicants to our police academy in San Jose. Our investments in outreach, recruitment and retention are beginning to pay off in something priceless: a safer city.”

Mahan also encouraged San José residents to volunteer to assist make the town cleaner, safer and more vibrant.

After the event, volunteers fanned out to numerous nearby locations to perform tasks reminiscent of cleansing up Coyote Creek and sprucing up and beautifying Kelley Park, home to each Happy Hollow and the Japanese Friendship Garden.

Mahan noted that San Jose's political leaders must soon pass a balanced budget that may also allow the town to combat homelessness and meet its environmental responsibilities.

“We're in this together,” Mahan said. “We may have different approaches, but ultimately we want a city that works, a city that works for all of us.”

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