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Volunteer Coalition Sharpens Vision of a Santa Clara Community Services – Part of an Occasional Series on the Homeless

A Santa Clara Community Services is one baby step closer to reality. March 19, twenty-two civic-minded people representing a cross-section of service providers, gathered at St. Justin’s Catholic Church in Santa Clara to discuss how to work together and coordinate local efforts to assist the increasing number of low-income and homeless residents of the city.

The informally-organized, all-volunteer Community Services Coalition, spearheaded by Santa Clara resident Teresa O’Neill, initially reached out to 90 service groups. Those present at the second meeting voted to affirm a vision statement that had been drafted by the coalition’s core team of volunteers:

“That all residents of Santa Clara have adequate food, housing, transportation, health care, and other basic services to enable them to live happy, stable, productive, and satisfying lives that strengthen our entire community.”

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As at the first Community Services Coalition meeting January 9, the favored option for helping needy Santa Clara residents is establishing an umbrella organization—such as Sunnyvale Community Services—which would link community-wide resources.

“There are a lot of people of good will and plenty of resources in Santa Clara, but nobody to coordinate the efforts,” says John Sullivan, pastor of Hope Lutheran Church.

Some who attended the coalition meetings represent small, independent groups that already help out those in need. They want to maintain the independence of their organizations yet not overlap in providing assistance. To develop an online index of local services that are now available and identify gaps in service, providers are asked to respond to a short survey at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/3J7H6DC.

“We need to be aware of who is already doing what. There is no overview organization now,” says David Mariant, Chair of the Minority Advisory Committee of the Mental Health Board of Santa Clara County and member of the Neighborhood Church.

Jeff Pedersen, Manager of Housing and Community Services for Santa Clara, pointed out that since the Redevelopment Agency has been eliminated by state action, no new money will be coming to the city. The money the city now has is all directed toward the housing first model, which is the current direction for assisting the homeless.

Meeting attendees identified action items: collect additional data regarding community needs, develop an online index of existing services, advocate locally for the homeless, begin a Yahoo group for online continuing conversation, get more volunteers into the loop, tap into county resources, learn best practices from existing agencies such as Sunnyvale Community Services, and contact Santa Clara University for help in developing a community services project plan.

“The group needs to identify a purpose and what they hope to accomplish. If they have a clear vision of that, I believe they will find the resources necessary to implement it,” says Pedersen.

The Community Services Coalition is open to anyone interested in participating in this ambitious—and some would say long overdue— project to better meet the needs of low-income Santa Clara residents. You do not have to be affiliated with an existing service organization. To be added to the e-mail distribution list, for information, to offer suggestions, or to help, contact Teresa O’Neill at teresa.oneillsc@gmail.com.

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