Opinion: The solution to homelessness in San Jose is accountability

You are held accountable at your job. Why not the people spending hundreds of millions of our tax dollars to manage a crisis more than solve it?

BY: Matt Mahan

We already know the solutions to end homelessness – we just don’t have a system that holds government accountable for deploying these solutions cost-effectively and at scale. What we get instead is incremental actions and incomplete solutions, not the results we need.

We can do better. Rather than a shiny new plan, what we actually need is a plan to force our leaders to be accountable for their plans. And here is mine.

I believe that unless San Jose and Santa Clara County elected officials and senior staff can reduce the rate of street homelessness by 10 percent per year for the next 10 years, we should not get raises.

That’s called accountability.

You are held accountable at your job. Why not the politicians, senior staff, and outside contractors spending hundreds of millions of our tax dollars to manage a crisis more than solve it?

As someone who has built two technology businesses before being elected to the City Council in 2020, I come from an environment where everyone – from CEO to the newest member of the team – is held accountable for results. We deal with resource constraints and have no choice but to set measurable goals, devise pragmatic strategies, track performance, and achieve results on a reasonable timeframe.

But that’s clearly not the way things work in politics. At least not yet.

Many of you will remember that the California state government was notorious for rarely passing a budget on time, with some budgets passed so late that the state had to pay its bills in IOUs. That no longer happens. Why? One of the key reasons is that in 2010 voters passed a law, Proposition 25, that said if the Legislature didn’t deliver a budget on time, the politicians wouldn’t get paid. Since then, our state budgets have always been on time.

The solutions to end street homelessness are well known.

Small, modular affordable housing units — not just shelters — work. During COVID, the city proved that we could build these small homes at nearly a tenth of the $850,000 per door some politicians ask us to spend on brand-new apartments for the homeless — and in a matter of months, not years. It’s a start, but not enough. We must aggressively build on that foundation.

We know that enabling homebuilding to reduce housing costs and prevent displacement works. City Hall has added numerous fees and layers of regulation — even for housing proposed exactly where we want it, in places like downtown — that it is past time to rethink.

We know that mandating that those who are a danger to themselves and others enroll in mental health care and drug treatment works. Last year, I helped lead the charge advocating for Santa Clara County to implement Laura’s Law — court-mandated outpatient treatment — after years of inaction. But we must be willing to do more.

Building in-patient mental health facilities for long-term care works. We had such facilities years ago which, while imperfect, had the capacity to serve hundreds of severely mentally ill individuals. Today our county has just 13 in-patient beds per 100,000 residents, versus the 50 experts say we need.

Jobs and job training work. Programs that create jobs for homeless people cleaning and beautifying our city, while receiving housing and job training, work. I worked alongside Mayor Sam Liccardo during the most recent budget cycle to expand a program that does just that.

We also know that a plan to end homelessness will only work if every city does its fair share, so San Jose is not paying to host the homeless from Palo Alto or anywhere else. We must demand that state and regional leaders distribute the costs more equally.

And, finally, let’s not forget, requiring homeless people to accept shelter when it is available works.

But none of it will work, and we will never get what we are paying so very much for, until we demand accountability. And that’s why holding everyone accountable – from the top politicians to our homeless neighbors – is at the core of my plan to end street homelessness.

Matt Mahan represents District 10 on the San Jose City Council and is a candidate for mayor.

This article originally appeared in the Mercury News

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