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PITCHED TENTS SURROUNDED Milpitas City Hall on a recent night, where advocates for the unhoused staged a campout to address the city’s ongoing homelessness crisis.
It was the eve of the City Council’s March 1 meeting, where recommendations were to be heard from the Milpitas homeless task force over an issue riling up the community on both sides. While some elected officials such as Councilmembers Karina Dominguez and Anthony Phan have been looking for ways to resolve homelessness in Milpitas, others like Mayor Rich Tran have threatened to sue the state and Santa Clara County over Project HomeKey proposals.
“We can longer do Band-Aid solutions, we need solutions that are going to move this issue into a place where it’s resolved,” Dominguez told San José Spotlight.
Dominguez slept in her car on Sunday and in a tent that Monday, along with advocates who slept outside the doors of City Hall in solidarity.
“This is temporary for me,” Dominguez said. “Unfortunately, that’s not the case for other people.”
Santa Clara County cities including Milpitas have struggled with a growing homeless crisis even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Volunteers recently searched streets, parks and highways to tally the unhoused population across the county for the first time in three years, hoping to get an idea of how many people are struggling to survive.
Funds allocated from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) could lead to a comprehensive plan to alleviate the crisis.
Milpitas received $16 million from ARP, and advocates and city officials hope to see a portion of those funds applied toward homeless relief programs. The council was to consider allocating up to $100,000 to continue services with Santa Clara’s Office of Supportive Housing.
For many advocates and city officials, Mayor Tran has shown less willingness to find solutions for the unhoused. Tran did not respond to a request for comment.
“I’ve sat through it all when the mayor and his allies threatened to sue the state of California (and) the county of Santa Clara to stop housing,” Councilmember Phan said Monday night as he addressed advocates outside City Hall.
In 2020, Tran threatened to sue California and the county over a Project HomeKey proposal that aimed to convert a Milpitas motel, Extended Stay America, into a housing site for homeless residents.
“He’s declared war against the unhoused,” Phan said regarding Tran’s push to sue over the project.
The mayor supported Milpitas residents who voiced concern over not having a say in the project’s approval, but the lawsuit did not move forward. The project, totaling $70 million to purchase the hotel and make modifications, was approved and is now operational for permanent housing with 132 studio apartments.
Tran has voiced his concerns over homeless encampments through his public Facebook account in recent weeks. The mayor stated encampments under the Calaveras Bridge and behind the Milpitas Public Library would be cleared out on March 1, however, Dominguez confirmed the sweep did not occur.
Dominguez said Tran has not consulted with his colleagues in the council about the matter.
“I personally don’t believe that we should be asking folks to leave without giving them resources that are tangible and that are going to allow them to live a better lifestyle,” Dominguez said.
While Dominguez says councilmembers share the same goal of fixing the city’s homeless crisis, advocates question the city’s stance on the issue.
“I don’t agree with what the mayor is trying to do,” advocate Loreto Dimaandal told San José Spotlight, referring to the mayor’s plans for homeless camp sweeps. “We want to beautify Milpitas, we want to clean up Milpitas, but not at the expense of the unhoused.”
Other homeless advocates shared similar sentiments.
“For the people who are here, who are elected and who’ve been elected, what is your commitment right now, not just for tomorrow’s vote, but for the issue at hand and for future votes?” homeless advocate Shaunn Cartwright asked city officials during the Feb. 28 campout.
Dominguez expected the tents to stay up until the end of the council meeting.
“I think there is a lot to be said about the different life experiences that each member brings,” Dominguez said. “In the end though, this is our family and we’re here to address the Milpitas family.”
Contact Jackie Contreras at email@example.com or follow @C96Jackie on Twitter.