Community coalition works to bring service center to SJ's unhoused residents, $500K needed

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Thursday, July 21, 2022
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Advocates for unhoused residents living in are trying to raise money for the Lighthouse Coalition Neighborhood Service Center.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Advocates for unhoused residents living in the South Bay gathered at Backesto Park in San Jose on Wednesday, grilling with a goal in mind. The BBQ fundraiser was meant to raise money for the Lighthouse Coalition Neighborhood Service Center.

While the service center has yet to be established, Lighthouse Pastor Ralph Olmos said the pandemic, plus inflation has pushed more San Jose residents to seek help.

"In that year and a half that we went into food distribution, it opened our eyes to a lot more issues that are happening in our neighborhood," Olmos shared.

Issues he explained require more resources than the existing Lighthouse Food Rescue and Distribution (LFRD) center alone can offer.

The demand to do more is the reason behind the creation of the community coalition of homeless advocates, small business owners, community leaders and more.

RELATED: SJ food pantries worry demand for food won't be met if city, county stop pandemic funding

Group members shared their vision to bring online a first-of-its-kind comprehensive service center for the most vulnerable residents. One focus would be to include an Insulin Clinic for the unhoused, living with diabetes.

"Last year, about 20% of the 250 people that died on the streets had diabetes listed as the first or second cause of death," Coalition member Shaunn Cartwright told ABC7 News.

Cartwright is a longtime local homeless advocate and founder of the Unhoused Response Group.

She said the coalition is eyeing property on North 15th Street in San Jose. It's the former site of an adult day program and is said to be centrally located to the large encampments of East, West and Downtown San Jose.

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The price tag for the property at 303 N. 15th Street is $2.5-million, but the community coalition is attempting to raise only a fraction of that cost.

"We need $500,000 by Aug. 1 to get this building," she added.

Pastor Olmos weighed in, "Even though it's $500,000, I don't feel like we're far from it."

Coalition members described the property as turnkey and ready-to-go.

"Normally, it's like, 'Well... we need time to renovate this and bulldoze that,'" Cartwright continued. "And then there's cost overruns. But this is a turnkey project."

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It's a building that would be able to provide space needed for wraparound services. The project aims to put dental help, health checks, haircuts, legal advice, case management and more in one location.

"For people on the streets to get services, you have to go to places that are very far apart," Cartwright detailed. "It could take you all day to accomplish two things."

She continued, "People just don't understand how much effort it takes to get anything done when you're out there. So having these things in one place will really help people accomplish their goals, get off the streets."

ABC7 News first introduced viewers to Pastor Olmos in February, after the City of San Jose warned he needed a special-use permit to continue providing free groceries to the community.

VIDEO: Community, SJ leaders push to cover permit fee for neighborhood food pantry

"I found that the moment you want to start doing good, there's so much red tape," Olmos said. "Why can't we just do what needs to be done?"

"The best publicity that we ever got was the city creating that permit issue," Cartwright added.

She said following that hurdle, the community stepped up and fought to keep distribution going.

Pastor Olmos said he's hopeful the coalition and community will come through for the region's unhoused population- a group which grew by 11% since 2019, according to the most recent point-in-time homeless count.

"People always say, 'Well, we can't build this thing because then the homeless will come here,'" Cartwright shared. "The homeless are here."

Beyond Wednesday's BBQ, Lighthouse Coalition members are also accepting online donations to meet its monetary goal. To be redirected to the donation page, click here. Members ask contributors to dedicate the donation to Lighthouse.