TERAJI: Changing the face of Gilroy’s homeless

Artist rendering of the future Gilroy Sobrato Apartments by

We see them all around Gilroy, on street corners with signs
proclaiming great need, staking out the median strip by the
outlets, and sometimes sleeping at night in doorways downtown.
They make us uncomfortable, and we wish someone would do
something about it.
“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”

– Maria Robinson

We see them all around Gilroy, on street corners with signs proclaiming great need, staking out the median strip by the outlets, and sometimes sleeping at night in doorways downtown.

They make us uncomfortable, and we wish someone would do something about it.

Someone else, of course.

Gilroy has the highest rate of homelessness per capita in the entire county of Santa Clara. In spite of that, Gilroy has no homeless shelter.

The homeless live in parks, under freeway bridges and in back alleyways.

South Valley Housing developer Andy Lief is working on plans to build a low-income apartment complex on Monterey Road near Pinnochio’s Pizza.

The plan is to get 25 of the most promising chronically homeless individuals off the streets.

St. Joseph’s Family Center will be case managers for eight people, and Community Solutions will manage 17. The Gilroy Sobrato Apartment project is being made possible by a combination of county, state, federal and private funding streams.

At a community meeting Aug. 19 at Antonio Del Buono Elementary School, neighbors of the future complex expressed concern about what would happen long term.

“Will they be left to fend on their own at some point?” asked one resident.

“This will be stable, permanent housing. We will build a whole team around the person, with a 24-hour crisis line available,” David Cox said, executive director of SJFC. “We will create a strong layer of support for these individuals.”

Residents expressed worry about the neighborhood going downhill if the homeless complex is built near their homes.

“I work hard; is my property going to devalue?” a concrete mixer driver asked.

“The difference between a conventional homeless shelter and this housing is that we will patch these folks into resources that they have never had before,” Cox said.

“The success rate will dramatically improve over time. These will become neighbors you want living nearby as they become contributing members of our community.

“They will become a part of the fabric of our city.”

Concerns of neighbors ranged from fear sex offenders would be moving in next door to fears that gang activity would increase.

“We have a lot of little children who are five and under who live and play on our court,” one neighbor pointed out.

Gilroy Police Sgt. Kurt Ashley said, “Once a week, I review city plans from a law enforcement perspective. I ask, ‘How can I make it safer for this community?’ We will limit the access in and out, provide security patrols and put security cameras in the lobby, the corridors and outside the complex.”

“We will do everything possible within our ability to build in safeguards,” Developer Andy Lief of South Valley Housing assured the group.

“We are identifying those homeless who are more likely to work in this program and benefit from it,” Sgt. Ashley said.

“This is a controlled group,” said Vicki Pacheco, director of mental health at Community Solutions. “There will be no registered sex offenders, no felons. Each person will have a wraparound support team which includes a case worker, a peer mentor and a psychiatrist.”

As city planners, police, support services and housing developers reassured neighbors, a resident who wanted to be known only as “Shannon” said she would like to be able to point out to her daughter the positive aspects of those turning their lives around, so she could say, “Look, change is possible; look what you can become.”

“We totally support this plan,” Gilroy Police Chief Denise Turner said. “We already see progress being made with the downtown streets team of homeless who are cleaning up. They are picking up litter, scraping up bubble gum off the streets and cleaning up graffiti.”

She said that as they work downtown, they begin to get a feeling of accomplishment, which leads to further positive changes in their lives.

Miguel Gomez lived on the streets for eight long years.

He had disabilities that contributed to his condition.

He was arrested for vagrancy and cited for panhandling.

He slept under the bridge on Leavesley.

Then he became a part of the downtown streets team started by the St. Joseph’s Family Center.

He has gradually been turning his life around.

He courageously addressed all those present in a voice trembling with emotion:

“I got my life back.”

He is employed now and getting ready to go back to school. It was a gradual process for him to adjust to having a roof over his head again.

“For the first two months, I still slept on the floor because it was too strange to sleep in a bed.”

He said he is physically and spiritually better now.

“I thank God for my life. For a year and a half I’ve been a human being again.”

For more, go to gilroydispatch.com, click on the “News” tab and click on “Teraji: Making Connections.”

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