SAN JOSE, Calif. (KRON) — A formerly homeless San Jose resident is challenging local officials to spend the night in a shelter. She wants them to experience it firsthand before voting to open up more.
Councilmember Omar Torres says he’s up for the challenge. He says he wants to serve the unhoused community in San Jose.
Torres thinks spending a night in a shelter will help him better understand how he can help those individuals long term. Torres is getting ready to pack a bag and spent a night at a local homeless shelter.
“We’re willing to listen, we’re willing to come where they’re at and have these brutal discussions about why they are unhoused and what other services they need,” Torres said.
Torres was just elected last November. He says he has visited overnight shelters, but only during the day when they’re nearly empty. Then he received an email asking him to spend the night in a shelter.
He knew it was the right thing to do, saying at one point, he came close to homelessness himself.
“In college, I was a couch surfer and my mom lost her home in The Great Recession. We were able to immediately bounce into another family member’s home but some of our families in Silicon Valley aren’t so lucky.”
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The challenge comes from Sketch Oppie — a formerly homeless San Jose resident who is now with the California Department of Housing and Community Development.
Right now, the city council is getting ready to vote on a new $137M spending plan. Mayor Matt Mahan and some council members want to spend it on immediate solutions, such as overnight shelters. However, some homeless advocates believe affordable housing development is a better long-term solution.
Torres says he’s hoping this experience will help inform his vote.
“This is a crisis where we all have to work together and I am wanting to work with not only unhoused residents but our county and our city,” he said.
Torres wants to speak with those who are living in the shelter about their experience and get a clearer picture of how he can help.
“The main thing I want to know is where did they fall through the cracks,” Torres said. “Where did we as a society let them fall through the cracks?”
Torres says where he will stay will be confidential until after his stay is over. He is working with multiple locations to find an opportunity to do it, but he doesn’t want to take a bed from someone who needs it.