SAN JOSE, Calif. - Despite the holidays being a time of joy and celebration, it can be a difficult time for those who are unhoused. But one South Bay nonprofit’s actions reinforced the meaning of the season.
At San Jose’s Corinthian Ballroom in Downtown on Tuesday, there was a boisterous atmosphere that was part pep squad and part emotional pampering.
"Downtown Streets Team, we are cheerleaders for our team members. Those are the folks experiencing homelessness and working really hard to get out of it," said Chris Richardson, chief program officer for the organization.
For decades, the nonprofit has hosted an annual holiday celebration for those the holidays often forget.
Tuesday, some 300 unhoused, or formerly unhoused people from the around the Bay Area, gathered inside this city landmark. There was food, music, photos, and other trappings of the holidays, such as gifts.
"So many of them don’t have the connections, whether they’re familial or friends that so many of us take for granted. And so we want to celebrate them during this holiday season. We want them to know they’ve got a strong community," said Richardson.
Added attendee Charlotte Coker, "(You could) never told me I would have been in that position. Ever."
Now living in Sunnyvale, Coker said she was homeless for five years. In 2018, she moved off the streets and into permanent housing before the pandemic arrived.
The pandemic only worsened the homeless epidemic, according to experts.
Coker said sitting, eating, and socializing for the holidays warms her heart.
"It makes you feel good, wanted, like someone cares," she said.
Those warm holiday feelings are juxtaposed against the grim reality living on the streets can kill.
"People only remember unhoused people near thanksgiving and Christmas," said Shaunn Cartwright, a South Bay homeless advocate.
Wednesday afternoon, advocates plan to unveil headstones for the hundreds of unhoused people who have died in Santa Clara County, from Nov. 30, 2021, to Dec. 1, 2022.
"When you say you’re building housing, in the time it takes you to build housing, which is like a year and a half, two years, you have to think that’s 500 dead people," said Cartwright.
Back in the ballroom, the heartfelt emotional embrace comes with the knowledge the need for help will continue after the party ends.
Jesse Gary is a reporter based in the station's South Bay bureau. Follow him on Twitter @JesseKTVU and Instagram @jessegontv.