Government / Politics

Mayor Ignacio Velazquez Leads Effort to End Homelessness in San Benito County.

Hollister Mayor hopes to bring community together to meet the needs of the displaced


“Where do we get the money?” “Think we can’t afford it?” “We can’t afford not to do it”, Mayor Velazquez told those at the City Council meeting on Monday that not addressing the problem, ignoring that homeless person as you walk by, costs the community about $50,000 a year, in medical, legal  and other services while providing an apartment for that person would cost from $10,000 to $20,000. 


The Hollister Mayor asked for, and received, consensus from the City Council for him to approach the InterGovernmental Committee with the proposal to join the 100,000 Homes program, which aims to put 100,000 displaced people in homes by July 2014. The program was begun in January of 2013 and participating communities all over the United States have already housed over 90,000 people. It is their intention to identify the displaced people in your area, know who they are, what they need, and to provide housing for the most vulnerable 2% of those living on the streets.

Here is a link to their website to learn more. 

Here is a link to a video about the 100,000 Home Project

The Mayor said that, while it is not government’s role to solve the problem, it can open doors and provide ways for the community to contribute. He pointed out the participation of the Big Five Sports store providing 40 sleeping bags and tents for those who are currently housed at the Homeless Shelter which will be closing at the end of the month as the camp changes use. He noted that there are organizations, church groups, individuals and businesses in the community who can be brought together to help to address the problems of the homeless population.


Mayor Velazquez admitted that he had once been like many in the community who felt that addressing the homeless situation in the city was a matter of just enforcing the laws, getting them off the streets, or just putting them on a bus out of town. He said that Police Chief David Westrick and City Code Enforcement Officer Mike Chambless helped him to see that it was not that simple an issue.


He spoke of a man, who used to visit him at the Vault. Once he became Mayor, those visits continued and one day, he showed the Mayor a photo of himself as a child, dressed in a military uniform at a parade, holding his mother’s hand. He said that is was not easy to equate the rugged, shabby man in front of him with that young boy, who obviously had a loving mother. “We forget that we were all once that person, that little boy.” He said, ”That photo was the moment of change for me. Seeing that little boy and his loving mother.” He began to ask more questions to learn more about the issue. He began to see the homeless as individuals, each having their own story.


He found that once he started seeing them as people, he realized that there was something that could be done for each of them. Their stories were all different, and there were resources that could be accessed to help them change their lives for the better. For some, it might be having someone help them to navigate Social Security, or Veterans Services. Some just needed a break from the streets where they could get a shower, or a meal and a good night’s sleep. He noted that it is pretty tough to get up after a restless night trying to sleep while being worried you might be stabbed and go out looking for a job.


He has been making a point to meet the people who have been displaced and finding out about them and what they need. He has come to realize that the response to, “How can we afford to address the issues of homelessness?” is, “We can’t afford to do nothing!”

He said that in the short term, there may be intermediate goals, like a campground, to fill the gap the seasonal closing of the Shelter creates. What he heard from those he talked to that people were just asking for a chance. They weren’t looking for a hand-out they were looking for a chance to break the cycle they were trapped in. He brought down someone from the County to the park to help fill out some forms. He said, “If you know who they are, there is money available for them.” He proposed that, If they get funding for housing, they pay 30% of that to repay the program. 


He said, “The failure is on our side.” “We are failing to address the issue and keep making excuses.” “I decided to push the issue with the County and the Council and we have done more in the last few months than in the past ten years on this and we are not going to stop until we are finished. The goal is to have no homeless people”.

BenitoLink Staff