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October 15, 2021

Guest View, Stephanie Hernandez and Sarah Manjra: Advocate for the unhoused

Being a resident of Gilroy my entire life, it is disheartening to witness the growth of our homeless population over the past several years. Knowing how much the pandemic has affected millions of people all over the country, we have also seen its effects here as the homeless encampments increase. 

As stated on our very own City of Gilroy official website, it is no surprise to see that our little garlic town is growing and making room for more living communities and other development projects to help grow our community. With that being said, it is also inevitable that with new housing developments and new residents coming in the price of housing will increase and drive more residents out or leave them out on the streets. 

Homelessness is a multifaceted issue and we need to have a better understanding of its root causes as we work toward long-term solutions. Lack of mental health access, substance use, financial instability and unaffordable housing are all common causes of homelessness. 

In order to address mental health and substance use issues, it is imperative to make sure community members first have secure housing to meet their essential needs and have a safe place to recover. To offer some perspective on our current housing market, United States Census Data suggests that the average cost of a home in Gilroy is approximately $663,100. This will only increase with new housing communities being built. The Bay Area Census reports that 40 percent of Gilroy’s residents live in renter-occupied housing units. 

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, homelessness has increased in the state of California by 7 percent since the start of the pandemic. With the rise of unemployment resulting from the pandemic, more residents will need affordable housing options now than ever before. 

Where does this leave folks whose housing has already been jeopardized? The City of Gilroy’s website currently lists a limited number of emergency housing options for those seeking shelter. However, in order to qualify, one must be a survivor of domestic violence or a family with at least one child. Other shelter options are only available during the winter. These options are not only temporary solutions but are also accessible only to a small percentage of people who make up the homeless community. 

If you are a Gilroy resident you know our town comes together in times of need, we are stronger together and constantly show support to one another. As social work graduate students at the University of Southern California with myself being a Gilroy resident, we believe it is time to extend our support to our homeless neighbors; it is time to show how nurturing and strong we are as a collective. 

So the question is, what can we do to help the homeless residents of this town? I urge our residents to start by advocating for rent control policies that make rent affordable for families who earn a modest living. Rent control policies give the local government the power to implement protections for tenants by limiting annual rent increases and help to prevent displacement. Further, we have to urge our elected officials to expand upon housing subsidies for low-income residents. This way our community members have a safety net instead of being forced to choose between living on the streets or living in their cars. 

You can also help by referring unhoused locals to resources in our town like the Gilroy Compassion Center, which aims to help the homeless residents of Gilroy with assistance in providing temporary shelter, internet, showers, laundry and even provides case managers who help homeless individuals build up their resumes for job opportunities and resources on how to pay off debt or find education. 

I urge residents of our community to volunteer and to be a helping hand to the other residents of our community. By being an advocate, volunteering and even destigmatizing homelessness, we can make a tremendous difference and bring Gilroy closer than it already is.

Stephanie Hernandez and Sarah Manjra are graduate students at the University of Southern California.

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