As Homeless Freeze to Death, Why Are Officials Planning to Shutdown Temporary Housing?

Author Chuck Jagoda has been homeless in Santa Clara County for the past four years. While he mourns the tragedy of four homeless residents who died of hypothermia last week, he challenges the thinking of why housing officials are planning to eliminate the Sunnyvale Armory, which provides temporary housing, next year.

Four homeless people have died of hypothermia in Santa Clara County in the record low temperatures. Yet Sunnyvale's armory shelter -- in which homeless would not have frozen to death -- and the 150 safe, warm shelter beds inside the armory are set to be destroyed after this winter. The very useful, fine-functioning armory shelter is proposed to be "replaced" by some "permanent" housing units. This is a not-funny joke. No one is buying or renting or living in the other "permanent housing" that has been built near the armory. At night from the armory parking lot you can see the rows upon rows of dark windows -- no one is in those homes. What makes anyone think more units will house presently-homeless people in them?

There is nothing wrong with building permanent housing, using a Housing First approach, or making more permanent housing available to unsheltered people. All are great ideas. What is very wrong is the destruction of a viable temporary shelter.

I don't know why it's necessary to state this, but apparently it is: There is NO NECESSARY CONFLICT between erecting permanent housing and providing temporary shelter.

When someone says, "We can't provide temporary shelter because we believe in providing permanent shelter," you should think of it as your city council saying to you, "We can't possibly provide police protection AND collect the garbage."

Is there anyone who seriously believes that any city in the internationally-renowned, change-the-world Silicon Valley could not afford to provide both temporary and permanent shelter? None of the officials who so easily talk about permanent housing for some people as justification or even explanation for destroying the 150 shelter beds at the armory would give up their present lodging for a promise of permanent shelter at some future, unspecified, date. Yet, that is the plan they actually, publicly, are trying to sell!

Does anyone think that such shelter won't be needed next winter? If such a person exists (pay attention Housing, Homeless, and other local officials), let him/her answer this: If four houseless folks died WITH the alternative of an armory this winter, how many do you think will die WITHOUT that protection next winter?

From someone who's been homeless in Santa Clara County for four years to anyone who cares about the survival of unhoused people—please do not continue to subtract temporary shelter beds until and unless there are no homeless people still alive who need them. Or how about if you Peninsula city councilmembers actually build the affordable housing you have been very successfully avoiding building for the last twenty-five years? Will Santa Clara County Supervisor Mike Wasserman turn his grief into a letter to the Sunnyvale City Council asking them to please examine the issue and see if they can't find a way to put off the destruction of the armory? Will Santa Clara Supervisor Joe Simitian put his concerns in such a letter to the same officials? Will you?

As one Holocaust survivor put it, "Don't throw out dirty water until you have clean water." That is survival mode. That is what unsheltered people live in – survival mode. Do you know that homeless people die at four times the rate of non-homeless? Did any housed people freeze to death in Santa Clara County while these four homeless people did? If they did, I didn't read about it and I doubt you did either.

Some of us used to live in these apartments you do now. We used to have some pretty swell jobs at high tech firms like you do now. None of it is permanent. New programming languages come along. So do younger workers. So do recessions. One car accident and it can all come undone—car, job, home, marriage, confidence, sanity—gone in sixty seconds. Sure, some of us are in mental and/or drug difficulty. It's not always clear which came first—the substance abuse/mental illness or the homelessness. And really, what difference does that make now? Don't we all still need somewhere to sleep? Do you really want to live in a society that throws away it's infirm, elderly, mentally challenged, sick, and weak?  What about sick, weak, poor, homeless children?  If their parents “made some bad decisions,” or lost their home, job, and car—should we keep destroying the armories that shelter them?  Do we really need to save the rich any more money on their taxes?  Pay for more of their wars?  Pay any more for the excesses of their greed-fueled financial shenanigans?

We are not some invading scourge you can wall yourself off from. We are your grandparents, sons, daughters, parents, nephews, friends, and children of friends. Many of us have family ties to the area. We still work. We just don't make enough to pay these sky high rents. Sometimes we don't make or get enough to feed ourselves. We are you--just further down the road and a lot worse off.

You may not want to think so, but many of you now housed will one day be where we are. No. Check that. We have the armory now. The Fumble Fest known as the City of Sunnyvale with the full backing of the very topmost levels of Santa Clara County government, in their wisdom and compassion think it's best to close the armory after this winter.  So, if/when you get to homelessness here in Silicon Valley, the armory won’t be here.  It's ironic, but people are now letting resources be lost that they may one day wish they could use.

Thank you to the generous churches and service organizations—even the snotty ones. We appreciate those hot meals, the sleeping bags, the parkas, the clothes, the church floors of the Hotel de Zink churches and other faith groups who help us a great deal.  Thank you too to Heroes of The Homeless who take in people and help get them back to housed, independent living and to others who are kind with a smile, some food, clothes, money, or some conversation. Sometimes the cities are very unenlightened (and some of those are very dedicated to remaining so). Thank God for the advocates, the non-profits, the non-governmental organizations, the people who had other careers, but decided to work instead helping us.  We have much to be thankful for. And gratitude is far more potent even than the things you're grateful for.

About Chuck Jagoda

Chuck Jagoda is a writer and homeless activist based out of Palo Alto, California.

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Very well written

Thank you Chuck Jagoda. To be able to articulate this madness with such clarity is a gift. I am sharing wherever I can

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