By Chair Nai Hsueh, representative for District 5
One of the many challenges we face in 2020 is the continuing tragedy of homelessness. Several agencies, including Valley Water, work together on programs and efforts aimed at addressing the crisis.
It is a complicated problem, with no easy solution. Valley Water’s role is to work with our partners to clean creekside encampments that contaminate our waterways. This cooperative effort includes local police departments, social services and nonprofit groups that help provide support to the unhoused.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has further complicated these issues. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance this summer to stop clearing encampments due to the risk of spreading the virus. Following this guidance, Valley Water paused encampment cleanups.
We look forward to resuming the efforts — when it is safe to do so — as part of our mission is not just to keep creeks clean, but to do so in a way that benefits the entire community.
The encampment cleanups are part of our overall effort to keep our creeks and waterways clean and healthy and protect our communities from flooding. From the Adopt-A-Creek program to our annual Stream Maintenance Program, Valley Water devotes considerable time and resources to these goals.
Since 2014, our encampment cleanup effort has primarily been paid for by the voter-approved Safe, Clean Water and Natural Flood Protection Program. Due to the increasing demand for Valley Water resources to address encampment cleanups from cities and the community, the 15-year Encampment Cleanup project budget of $5.8 million was exhausted in the first five years. In Fiscal Year 2019, the Valley Water Board of Directors approved accessing $175,000 a year from the Safe, Clean Water Program reserves to continue to meet the annual project commitment of at least 52 cleanups.
Also, the Valley Water Board of Directors has supplemented the project with other funds in response to community demand.
As the need for addressing this difficult situation grows, so does our commitment. If it passes, the renewal of the Safe, Clean Water and Natural Flood Protection Program – Measure S on the November ballot – includes a new priority. Priority F would pull together multi-benefit projects from other Safe, Clean Water Program priorities and group them based on their common benefit of supporting public health and public safety along our waterways and infrastructure.
Significantly, the measure would provide $38.7 million to help address the water quality issues associated with homeless encampments, including $500,000 annually in partnership funds to coordinate with other multiple partner agencies to help find joint community solutions to reduce homeless encampments near local waterways.
In the meantime, our work continues, and the streams still need our care and attention. In late October, Valley Water crews were back in selected creeks to clean trash and remove debris and pollutants that can flow to the San Francisco Bay while not disturbing our local unhoused population.
All these efforts flow from our mission, to provide Silicon Valley safe, clean water for a healthy life, environment, and economy. It’s an effort that requires constant attention, cooperation with our community partners, and you. From participating in our volunteer program to serving on a board advisory committee to taking the time to keep your neighborhood streets clean, your efforts help keep our valley healthy and clean.
We’re all in this together.
I heard of a program to pay homeless to clean- it sounded like it was effective. Is this ongoing?
The City of San Jose’s Cash for Trash Program is ongoing and works with Mastercard to pay homeless residents per bag of trash collected. Valley Water is working on a partnership with San Jose to expand the Cash for Trash Program to locations near creeks and waterways.