San Jose mayor seeks 'crisis declaration' due to number of unhoused residents

Months before Mayor Matt Mahan San Jose, walked to the microphones for a Monday news conference, he knew homelessness was out of control.

"This is a crisis. We have to treat it like a crisis," he said. "Our actions and our policies (must) match our rhetoric."

The mayor, vice mayor and others, will submit, Wednesday, a memo classifying San Jose as a city in crisis due to the numbers of unhoused residents.

"I think homeless advocates deemed it a crisis the day they saw it," said Pastor Scott Wagers, a South Bay homeless advocate.

Over 4,000 residents are living along riverbeds, in RVs, and on the sidewalks of the city billed as the Capitol of Silicon Valley. Officials said the COVID pandemic exacerbated the problem.

"Our residents are frustrated. And we as council are frustrated," said David Cohen, the Dist. 4 council member.

As a result, encampments have grown, and so have many of the problems associated with unsheltered living.

"It’s a little bit like a patient who’s had a car accident. First, you’ve got to stop the bleeding," said Elisabeth Funk, CEO of DignityMoves, a non-profit that works to build interim housing for the unhoused.

City officials said a crisis declaration would streamline current policies and procedures to shorten the time it takes to build interim housing or safe parking and sleeping sites, from years to months.

"This is an emergency, we have to move with all haste to build safe, dignified alternatives to encampments," said Mahan. Added Cohen, "As a council it’s our obligation to get barriers out of the way. To make sure we can do things as quickly as possible."

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Some formally unhoused residents point to success, such as last week’s opening of the Arena Hotel to be used to house the unhoused, as a path to success.

"You just gotta put one foot in front of the other and just wanna give it a shot," said Jaime Navarro, who spent nine years living on the streets. "Take advantage of it. Take advantage of it."

But some critics charge the city is sounding the alarms, after the firestorm of homelessness has grown too big.

"It’s like watching a house burn to the ground and saying, ‘We need water on the house, there’s a burning fire.’ But then you watch another house appear, and it’s on fire," said Wagers.

The mayor needs a majority of three on the Rules Committee to vote for the crisis declaration, in order to move forward. If that happens, the declaration would go to the full council for a vote, perhaps by the end of October.

Jesse Gary is a reporter based in the station's South Bay bureau. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter), @JesseKTVU and on Instagram, @jessegontv