In one of his very first meetings as the new president of Gilroy Rotary, Mark Turner presented its  members with an ambitious challenge: reduce homelessness in Gilroy by 30 percent over the next three years.

The 2019 Homeless Census and Survey, conducted in January by Applied Survey Research, identified 704 homeless people in Gilroy out of 9,246 homeless people in Santa Clara County. Gilroy reported the second-highest homeless population in the county behind San Jose.

Turner, who also is president and CEO of the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce, said he’s had a number of conversations with city and county officials, as well as homeless services agencies in the county, about the issue.

“Homelessness is the most current social scourge we face,” he said. “It’s a growing crisis, and it needs to be addressed. I thought this might be the time to bring this forward to our Rotary club.”

Turner said the club’s focus will be on homeless people who are categorized as “unsheltered,” who are numbered at 345, according to the census. That is 50 more people compared to the last survey completed in 2017.

The club will also put an emphasis on homeless students. A survey conducted by the Hope Center concluded that nearly 20 percent of California community college students surveyed reported experiencing homelessness within the past year.

The Hope Center surveyed nearly 40,000 students at 57 community colleges, and found more than half felt insecure about their housing situations the previous year, according to one news report.

“I know it’s going to be a Herculean effort, but we also know that something has to be done,” Turner said.

A group of Rotarians have formed a committee that will be tasked with researching the issue, and finding activities the club can be a part of that will have the most impact. The committee is expected to bring its recommendations to the club within the next eight months.

Rotary is an international service club that is possibly the most well-known for its efforts in eradicating polio. As one of the founders of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, Rotary has helped immunize more than 2.5 billion children in 122 countries, and those efforts have reduced the incidence of the disease from 350,000 worldwide in 1988 to 33 in 2018.

“I’m excited that the Rotary club has embraced the idea of this homeless initiative,” Turner said. “Hopefully we can make an impact.

“When Rotarians put their mind to something, they can make it happen.”

Those interested in helping in the effort are encouraged to contact Turner at [email protected].

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Erik Chalhoub joined Weeklys as an editor in 2019. Prior to his current position, Chalhoub worked at The Pajaronian in Watsonville for seven years, serving as managing editor from 2014-2019.


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