PATH: Showing love and care in divisive times of hate

Preface: With the ongoing national discourse around hate, race, and moral equivalency, I initially thought I faced a difficult decision on whether to post this piece this week, because I thought it would get lost in a much larger and pressing social discussion. But it turns out that writing about an organization like PATH which is doing amazing work helping to home the homeless in San Jose and California, offers tangible hope to end homelessness in our city and state. PATH promotes everything that we as a society should stand up for: loving, caring, helping, and housing the most vulnerable in our city, whoever they my be, because it’s the right thing to do.

Why I chose to join the Advisory Board for PATH San Jose.

Housing seems to be THE topic that comes up in every conversation around San Jose right now. Even though the city’s leadership(city staff and city council) focus remains on fixing the jobs/housing imbalance, it is housing, specifically affordable housing that is in the forefront of most residents’ minds. How do I find affordable housing? How do I secure long term affordable housing? How do we building affordable housing? How do we provide affordable housing to those that need it the most, like teachers, students, artists, service workers, firefighters, police officers?

But then there is the topic that seems insurmountable, housing the homeless. Though the daily visual reminders of people sleeping in alcoves and pushing shopping carts with their life’s belongings remains disheartening, maybe even growing more prevalent, housing homeless individuals is not impossible. In fact, housing homeless individuals is very possible, and it’s happening. Just this month Rambo, was housed after 38 years on the streets.

One organization that has shown a track record of housing individuals and also providing ongoing services is PATH(People Assisting the Homesless). PATH was founded in LA over 30 years ago by Clair West Orr, a pastor’s wife who wanted to improve the feeding program at their church. Today it is a model organization that works with homeless individuals where they are on the street, by connecting them to the services and organizations that they need to survive, and when housing units become available, house them. All the services housed San Joseans need and use are same things homeless individuals need. Services like doctor’s visits, dentist visits, hearing aid appointments, whatever it may be, people are people, whether inside or outside a house.

PATH has ambitious goals: house 10,000 homeless statewide individuals in seven years by 2020. They have already achieved housing 7,300 people with two and half years remaining. In San Jose, that goal is far smaller, but still very attainable: house 50 individuals in a year: from August 1st, 2017 to June 1st 2018. The reason PATH is different, is that they encourage community participation as a is key to success. Their funding is specific and allows them to get individuals into housing, but their funding cannot be used for other move-in expenses like security deposits, utility deposits, and other move in essentials(think shampoo, scrub brush for dishes, basic toiletries), approximately $1,000/person. This is where PATH is looking to the San Jose community for help with their campaign. It only takes $1,000/person to cover those essential costs,  so for the 50 people PATH is looking to help house, it would take $50,000.

Homelessness is one of those topics that frustrates community members because the solution seems intangible at an individual level. The opportunities for a single citizen to help the homeless usually begins and ends with volunteering to providing a hot meal at a food kitchen, or handing out essential supplies on the streets. This is what makes the campaign stand apart. Individuals, family, friends, co-workers, etc., have the opportunity to come together and raise $1,000 to help someone get off the street, AND be there when they move into their new home. It’s an actionable, tangible gift, with immediate results and satisfaction knowing that the money, time and thought, went directly to someone that needed it. Homelessness is a very emotional issue both for those without homes and for those trying to help. Guilt, anger, sadness, powerlessness, desperation are all normal emotions from everyone touched by the situation. This is an opportunity to bring positive emotions and change to someone’s life that needs help, and results in a benefit for the whole community.

PATH’s excellence in service and care in it’s street outreach, is also evident in their housing projects. PATH just started a new project Villas on the Park which will be 79 homeless housing units with full resident services on the ground floor. PATH will be on site and staff the building 24/7, ensuring that the residents feel safe and take ownership of the building. This is very different from other transitional housing service providers that may only come and do check-ins with the residents and are not continually on site. PATH’s track record of reducing homelessness within the neighborhoods they work in (San Diego) is well documented and something to be championed.

The 2017 Homeless Census and Survey(executive summary), shows an uptick in homeless individuals in San Jose at 4,350 over 2016. The state as a whole saw homelessness increase in 2017, but San Jose actually had smaller growth compared to other cities in the state, a testament to the great work by city leadership and all the organizations that are tackling this issue. We have the leadership and we have the organizations, and we have the platform for change. What we need is the willing, to come together as a city and offer our time and resources as individuals, to show our love and to help those individuals that need us most. We are making tangible differences, join us.

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