Rally held in San Jose to shed light on youth homelessness

Dozens of people rallied at San Jose City Hall Thursday to raise awareness about the plight of homeless youth in the area. November is also National Homeless and Runaway Prevention Month and supporters say more needs to be done to get young people off the streets.  

It’s no secret that issues of homelessness plague the entire state, but advocates say young people without housing are often being overlooked.  

"No more homelessness. Homes for everybody!" shouted those gathered for the rally at San Jose City Hall Wednesday night.  

Supporters of the Bill Wilson Center in San Jose rallied and marched Wednesday to bring attention to young people who struggle to stay housed. The Bill Wilson Center provides services for 5,000 young people ages 12 to 24 in Santa Clara County through various programs. Established in 1973, the center now has multiple locations throughout the South Bay.  

"A lot of homeless youth aren’t necessarily out on the streets, and you see them out in tents. They’re couch-surfing, they’re going from place to place, and they’re living in basements especially since the pandemic," said Sparky Harlan, Bill Wilson Center CEO. 

After the rally at San Jose City Hall, people marched about a mile to the Bill Wilson Center Drop-in Center on South 2nd Street. Bill Wilson Center CEO Sparky Harlan says youth are often undercounted because they’re not sleeping on the street and visible, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t in need of help.  

"They’re hurting. Most of them are the ones who lost their jobs during the pandemic. They have no money. They have no support. Even some maybe went home, but they’re being thrown out of their houses now," Harlan said.   

The Center says more than 10,000 students are without permanent housing in Santa Clara County and that staggering amount of young people struggling cannot be forgotten.  

"The idea is that we want to make sure that it’s front of mind for everybody, that this really vulnerable and important population are folks that we are investing in with our energies, with our thoughts and with our policies," said Blake Balajadia, a Bill Wilson Center Board Member.    

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Harlan has been at the Bill Wilson Center for 40 years and is retiring next year. She says her passion for the homeless began in 1971 from her own experience and not a lot has changed for young people without a home.  

"The young people on the street want a different life. They’re not out there because they’re having fun or playing, it’s the choice they didn’t get to make. It was forced on them."   

State Senator Dave Cortese is also calling for an audit of the funds that San Jose is receiving to reduce homelessness. He says people should know if the millions of dollars being spent are helping and what else could be done to keep people off the street.