Social workers, local housing and service providers, people who have experienced homelessness and city officials met at Hollister’s Veterans Memorial Building on Sept. 19 to discuss homelessness and home insecurity.
The biggest issue? According to a majority of the group, it is the lack of financial resources in the county.
“It’s sad. They [homeless people] suffer. I was suffering,” said Bobby G., who previously experienced homelessness and didn’t want to share his last name for privacy reasons. He added that maybe fundraisers would help bring more money and resources to the county.
“I know these homeless people don’t have money. And it doesn’t feel good to starve,” he said.
Drug and alcohol use was brought up and the risk of more fentanyl-caused deaths.
Christina Leon from Community Homeless Solutions and program coordinator of the H.O.M.E. Resource Center program, the local homeless shelter, said their hours were cut due to lack of funding, which is affecting those who use the facility like Anna Salas, who was present at the session.
“I think it’s important that we have a space for them to go and feel safe. To have a shower,” Leon said.
Several organizations provided food to the homeless. Linda Lampe, who runs the nonprofits My Father’s House and Hollister Community Outreach, and the Worth Saving thrift store said that nonprofits and service organizations need to communicate and work together better. “I think there are times when the same people get two meals and others go without.”
Eve Mata, also from Community Homeless Solutions and H.O.M.E. Resource Center program manager, spoke about “jumping through hoops” to get resources in the county and the frustrating process she went through to apply for grants that the shelter never got.
“The reality is that there are no resources in San Benito County,” Mata said. “It’s not easy.” Mata said that Santa Clara County has many more programs available like transitional housing that helps homeless acclimate to indoor living again.
Hollister’s Housing Programs Director Jamila Saqqa said that her phone number pops up when someone searches “Hollister housing.” Saqqa said she often referred people to the shelter, but sadly admitted she didn’t know the hours had been cut. “Internally, there’s no communication,” she said.
“I feel like it’s an empty hand that I’m giving,” Saqqa said. “It comes down to funding. It’s so difficult. It feels like we don’t have enough to give and I don’t have the authority to help with those services.”
Mariana Methlouthi, a case worker said, “Clients come up and ask for more than we can give them. It’s difficult out there and it comes down to resources and it comes down to funds.”
Leanne Oliveira, Senior’s Council Program Coordinator, spoke about her particular clients.
“A lot of my seniors are invisible seniors,” Oliveira said. She explained that some live in their car in the park, in ordinary places that would go unnoticed. one wouldn’t think twice about.
“The biggest issue is the criminalization of homeless people,” Oliveira said.
Hollister Mayor Mia Casey said she gets asked about the homeless issue in the city and said it’s complex. “It takes a village,” she said. Casey added that there need to be options for people in different situations and “that’s what makes it hard.”
“I don’t get how we got there,” Marcey Duarte said. “Hollister is not that big and we should be able to hold each other.
“As a community we can all step up and let’s make it easy to be part of this community,” she continued. “I don’t like that we have a homeless community. We’re one community. We’re Hollister and we need to remember that.”
Overall, the group said If there is no change, the outcome would mean more death, more crime, more drug dependency and more people becoming homeless. There would be a backlash and greater division in the community, Duarte said.
So, how can this issue be fixed?
More grants and funds, Salas said. Oliveria said one solution is offering mobile showers and laundry services.
Lampe said it’s about putting egos aside and uniting the organizations so they can help the homeless population. She said that sometimes agencies become competitive over funding and do not communicate with each other. The group agreed that uniting over common goals and dividing areas of responsibility could improve efficiency and effectiveness.
BenitoLink’s listening sessions are a continuation of those done by the Community Foundation for San Benito County in 2011 and 2012. Several notable results followed sessions, including:
- The founding of BenitoLink, a nonprofit news organization serving the residents of San Benito County with local and regional news and information
- The REACH Parks Foundation, which has been central to the development of parks and walking trails in San Benito County
- The Community Foundation Women’s Fund, which has helped women with financial support and educational programs
- Local nonprofits such as the San Benito County Farm Bureau identified the need for leaders with a better understanding of agriculture, and worked to bring qualified team members into leadership positions
The 2023 Vision San Benito County Listening sessions are supported by the Calhoun/Christiano Family Fund and the Community Foundation for San Benito County. There are approximately 20 Listening Sessions scheduled throughout September to hear about issues and solutions from many small segments of the community. BenitoLink is reporting back the results in articles about each session.
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