It’s a case of one element creating an inordinate amount of pressure on its related parts. We live in a region where – for those who can afford it - the cost of housing easily consumes more than 65% of people’s income (Univ. of Santa Cruz Study, 12/2018), leaving little left over for those other, equally important matters that are a part of our lives such as food, medicine, and utilities…things that can never be considered luxuries.
In Silicon Valley - one of the richest regions in America - families, children, seniors, veterans and students must deal with hunger and homelessness every day throughout our communities. 720,000 of our neighbors in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties go to bed each night not knowing where their next meal is coming from. Here at Loaves and Fishes, we reached an unhappy milestone last year: we served over half a million meals to the most vulnerable in our communities through our 3 meal service sites and 55 partner organizations where we deliver hot nutritious meals five days a week. Of particular concern is the fact that 1 in 3 of those we serve meals to are children. For children at every age, food is fuel, and they cannot properly learn if their nutritional needs are not met.
Since the passage of bond Measure A in 2016, which will provide $950 million dollars to create or preserve affordable housing in Santa Clara County, a much-needed spotlight has been focused on the issue of affordable housing in Silicon Valley.
Joining the movement to increase affordable housing stock is a $50 million dollar commitment from Cisco, $100 million recently allocated by the City of San Jose and $67 million in affordable housing funds that have been provided by San Mateo County’s Affordable Housing Fund since their inception. These funds will provide much-needed affordable housing for extremely-low, very-low and homeless populations, including families, individuals, seniors and veterans. No one applauds these efforts more than we do. We see the effects of a lack of affordable housing every day on the guests we serve.
Here’s the dilemma - the affordable housing units to be funded from these sources will not come online for occupancy for 3 – 10 years. Most still have multiple rounds of loan, permit and environmental impact approvals to go through. These desperately needed units will provide welcome relief to the homeless and hungry who cite a lack of affordable housing as the number one contributing factor to their current situation. The problem is, this progress does not help address the situation and circumstances faced by the homeless and hungry today.
Folks who come to us for hot nutritious meals – for the majority the only meal they will have that day - do not have a “pause button” to hit on their hunger or their need to obtain food for their family. People cannot wait because hunger won’t wait. Hunger marches on its own timeline, and for our most vulnerable neighbors in need that timeline started yesterday, continues each and every day, and will not end until there is equity at all levels of our society.
We must make meeting the needs of the hungry and homeless a part of our current and long-term conversations around housing. They are inextricably linked – if you cannot afford current housing prices, you become homeless, and if you are spending most what precious little funds you may have coming in on housing, you don’t have enough to meet your other needs. In the end, the result is the same – people are hungry, and we have a moral obligation, in the richest country in the world, to ensure that no one - adult, child, senior, veteran or disabled – be forced to choose between shelter and sustenance. We are better than this. We must be better than this.
Contributed by Gisela B. Bushey, Chief Executive Officer, Loaves & Fishes Family Kitchen