By ERIC KURHI
I’m calling 2017 the Year of Compassion.
The first ingredient of compassion is acceptance. We do not tolerate people here in Santa Clara County, we accept and embrace them. Whether they are members of our LGBTQ community seeking civil rights, or refugee children seeking asylum, women seeking equity, immigrants seeking a path to citizenship, the indigent seeking health care, the elderly seeking retirement security, or Muslims seeking religious freedom and peace, or the chronically homeless seeking a roof over their heads.
We accept and embrace humanity in a way that is a model for the rest of the world. But we don’t stop at acceptance here in SCC, we promote dignity and we teach empowerment. Lilla Watson, an indigenous Australian aborigine and a champion for women’s rights said,
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
We don’t rescue people here in SCC. We empower them to be part of their own liberation—and our own.
Strengthened by facing our most difficult challenges in 2016, we are emboldened and ready to resist unconstitutional and coercive orders from Washington, fight for justice and safety, provide health care for those who can’t afford it, and continue to champion inclusiveness among our multicultural communities.
We saw that resolve in the 30,000 who marched for women’s rights in San Jose on January 21, and the millions who marched across the world. And I see it now in this audience.
The Year of Compassion is also a call to action.
There is so much uncertainty facing us from threats against our values, loss of funding that would hurt our residents, the mass removal of undocumented workers and the attempted ban on Muslims entering the Country.
But we are sure of this: the County will continue to be a safety net for the vulnerable, a vigilant watchdog of attacks on hard working immigrant families and a protector of the rights and welfare of all.
And we need your help.
This is a time when we must come together. Not just for assessing and reacting to executive orders that will affect us, but in all our efforts to make this County a better place.
Already during this new year, Supervisor Chavez and held three hearings – on immigration, women’s issues and hate crimes. We heard from community members imploring us to afford them the dignity that they deserve to live here and feel self-empowered here.
So what about 2017? Where else will we be going this year?
Well for one, our work repaying that debt to our children must continue.
I have a 3-year-old godchild (Rey Martinez) who comes to visit regularly. I have noticed how quickly his learning accelerates at that age…and how easily he could fall irreparably behind without the proper attention. And though he has a village of people that will care for him, there are countless of other children who won’t have that same care or support.
The Children’s Health Assessment conducted by the Public Health Department this past year identified that an estimated 67% of households in our county will require child care which can make up to 30% of a family’s total expenses.
Some children and families face additional barriers. On average, there may be 800 to 1,000 children whose mothers are incarcerated. They have significantly limited resources, services and support systems, and their children often exhibit poor health, behavioral, educational and developmental outcomes.
I challenge us to keep these children in mind also. To not punish them for the shortcomings of their parents. And at the same time, to look beyond the stigma and negative perceptions placed upon incarcerated parents, many of whom were dealt complicated lives in the first place. The County shouldn’t perpetuate a cycle that binds families to poverty.
In that vein, we moved quickly this year to eliminate fees and fines charged to families of youth who are in Juvenile Hall detention. Depending on the length of stay, a family may have to pay up to $930 per month, leading many low-income families to accrue criminal justice debt they can’t afford. Unpaid fees and fines can lead to tax refunds being intercepted or wages garnished. The County is a safety net. We need not burden a family already struggling with a child in Juvenile Hall.
We must confront these types of challenges, show compassion and, in the process, empower children and families. That is why I have asked Supervisor Yeager, our appointee to the First 5 Commission, to lead an effort this year to strengthen, scale, and develop new investment strategies in early learning and development.
I am also calling upon the Office of Women’s Policy to lead a working group tasked with assessing, designing and helping implement policies and initiatives that support children with incarcerated parents. The working group should include collaboration between the Commission on the Status of Women, Probation, Public Defender’s Office, Reentry Services, Pretrial Services, the Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Correction.
The working group will present a preliminary work plan at the county’s first National Conference on Women and Girls in the Criminal Justice System at the end of the year.
Thank you to Kathleen King; Dana Bunnett, Judges Lucero, Tondreau and Edwards, Sparky Harlan and so many others for many of these ideas and for pushing us always to do more.
Last November, I called for the development of plans for transitional housing villages in our County. While it is true that we need thousands of permanent supportive housing units—that is why we fought so hard for approval of the Housing Bond—we also need temporary, individualized housing opportunities for those waiting for the permanent housing to be built.
Dignity Village in Portland, which Pattie and I visited in January, is just such a housing opportunity. It is owned by a 501c3 non-profit, Right-to-Dream. Most importantly it is governed by the residents themselves. And the residents support themselves with micro-businesses and solar power in a way that is empowering. We need to change our mindset about those not living in conventional housing. We need to stop trying to rescue them, and we certainly need to stop having police departments sweep them. We must empower them to take responsibility for their own lives, including their own temporary living quarters. This is a different way of thinking but it works. If it works in Portland we can do it here in Silicon Valley, even better.
So I am urging my colleagues on the Board of Supervisors to join me in advocating for this next step. We answered the call for a Housing Bond. Now that that nearly $1 billion money is set aside for permanent housing let’s turn our attention back too how we actually transition our “houseless” neighbors from the creeks to condos by empowering them to fully participate in their own housing solutions. I want to thank Robert Aguirre for insisting that I travel to Oregon with him. Robert and all those ministering to the homeless know best how to take this next step. If you are somebody who cares or ministers to the Houseless please stand and be recognized.
We will also be empowering our newly housed veterans to transition into employment so they can live independently. The County, with Working Partnerships USA and Destination: Home is launching a new Employment Initiative to provide training in trade industry professions. When the participants complete the apprenticeships, they will be placed in stable, well-paid jobs so they can pay for their housing and rebuild their lives. The first session started last month, and half of the 30-member class are veterans from our All the Way Home Campaign.
And we need to focus on other segments of the population: Transitional Age Youth, those who age out of the Foster Care System and too often find themselves homeless. Or the one in four women who are homeless because they were victims of Intimate Partners Violence.
This year, we will celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Reentry Center. In my first year as President of the Board (2010), I asked Governor Jerry Brown not to abdicate his responsibility to state parolees being sent to Santa Clara County under AB109. Rather to make sure we had the resources to properly supervise and support this population. At that time, approximately 70 percent of the parole population was re-offending. Today, through the transformational efforts of our Reentry Center Team, those numbers have been turned on their heads. Today, 64 percent of all referrals to the Reentry Center are staying out of trouble. In the audience today are members of our Reentry Center Team, led by Javier Aquirre. Would you please stand and be recognized.
Of course, none of this would be possible without the effort and willingness of paroles themselves. Let me tell you about Henry Townsend. Henry came to the Reentry Center shortly after it opened. He had served a 25-year sentence in state prison and wanted a fresh start. Henry took seriously the responsibility of reporting to the Reentry Center every morning, one hour before it opened, and received the resources needed to secure housing, employment and counseling. Today, through his own efforts he is employed full time as a plumber. Let’s give Henry a round of applause. Henry, remain standing, please.
But that’s not the whole story. When Henry first came to the Reentry Center, straight out of prison, he was assisted with housing. But that assistance ran out some time ago. Henry, despite doing everything right, everything he’s been asked to do, is homeless. He’s forced to live in his plumbing van for lack of any other secure way to life and to protect his tools. This has been going on for months. We’ve got to do better.
Henry called me one night in tears. He wanted to know how the rest of us do it. He said it would be tempting to commit a theft crime and violate his probation just as a way to get in out of the cold into a warm prison cell with three meals.
Ladies and gentlemen, we need to stop this madness of allowing our housing crisis to help drive jail and prison population. We blame lots of things for the increase of prison. How about we fix what’s in our control by providing transitional and permanent housing for those who are making the effort and really do want to live like the rest of us?
We launched another successful model called Pay for Success in 2015, the first in the state, and we are seeing remarkable results. Under this innovative contracting method, County funding was set aside to repay upfront funders of Project Welcome Home, operated by Abode Services. I am happy to report that Project Welcome Home has housed 111 of 112 clients, and has exceeded its projected success rate (102%). These clients were frequent users of emergency rooms, emergency psychiatric facilities and jails, which costs the County and the taxpayers considerably more than providing housing and services. More important than that, we are saving lives.
We like how this Pay for Success model works, so tomorrow, (Feb 8th) the County will announce that we are launching the nation’s first mental health-focused Pay for Success project in partnership with Telecare Corporation, a leader in providing services to those with serious mental illnesses. “Partners in Wellness,” will provide mental health services to about 250 people who face serious mental illnesses. And payment for services comes only with success.
Pay for Success model that deserves to be replicated throughout the County.
Labor standards are under attack nationally. In this County we have adopted a variety of policies designed to protect the most vulnerable workers, but enforcement has been lacking. In order to ensure that labor standards are followed we need an innovative community-based approach toward enforcement, and so we will develop a plan to institute community-based enforcement.
In 2017, our Office of Supportive Housing will implement a new countywide homelessness prevention system, and expand temporary housing programs that are designed to put homeless families, veterans and individuals on a path to empowerment and self-sufficiency.
Jail Reform and Public Safety
As I’m sure you realize, fixing a broken jail system is not done in a few months. That work will continue to make major progress in 2017. We’ve already taken many short-term actions in conjunction with the Sheriff’s Office to ensure that our jails are safe for inmates, visitors and corrections officers:
• The Board has approved the use of body-worn cameras for Sheriff’s officers on patrol and Custody Officers in our Jails. We’ve installed 281 surveillance cameras at the Main Jail and created Inmate Advisory Councils to increase communication between inmates and jail officials, improved the procedures that inmates use to file grievances and added education and therapy programs.
• We’re aggressively recruiting to hire more corrections officers and mental health professionals and will break ground on a new Jail this year. And the County is committed to strengthening Jail Diversion Programs so that mentally ill arrestees do not end up in jail in the first place. None of us on the Board want our most vulnerable mentally ill clients to be booked like hardened criminals.
We have a long way to go, but be assured that we are taking all the Jail Reform recommendations seriously and implementing them as prudently as we can. To date over 600 recommendations from a variety of individuals, groups and organizations have been forwarded to the board, first screened in committee by Supervisors Simitian and Chavez.
Santa Clara County is home to one of the most diverse populations on earth, and we consider our diversity an asset. Immigrants make up 37 percent of our workforce, and account for 44 percent of our economic productivity. Nearly 40 percent of our residents were born in another country. On any given day, 100 different languages are spoken in our County, and 50 percent of our residents speak a language other than English at home. Immigrants come here chasing the American dream, they want to be free, pursue and education, be safe, provide for their families and build a better life for themselves and their children.
They are no different than those in the past two centuries who boarded boats from their homelands seeking a better way of life and more freedom. In my grandfather’s time, there was no wall or barrier or demagogue on our shores turning immigrants away. We must and will create an American path to citizenship once again.
Now more than ever as we talk of embracing and respecting our diversity, we must use all of our available means to protect our diverse population from a President promoting fear and threatening our County treasury. Mass deportation, travel bans on people from predominately Muslim countries and the shredding of our Constitution to coerce our County to violate the due process rights of our residents or have funds stripped from our coffers, all must be rebuked.
Santa Clara County will not cooperate with attacks on hard-working families on the basis of status. The Board of Supervisors has taken action to:
• Develop legal strategies to stop a loss of revenue or protect residents’ Constitutional rights.
• Create a Federal Legislative Advisory Committee, the Board informed about the impacts of changes in policies, legislation and to propose Board actions.
• Through the Office of Immigrant Relations, we will step up the efforts of our information campaign, in multiple languages, so that immigrants will know their rights and where to seek services.
All the work we’ve done, all the people we’ve helped, all the distance we’ve come… We are not going to turn back and abrogate our responsibilities now. And to back that up, as many of you are aware – last Friday, the County filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of President Trump’s executive order to withhold funding from cities and counties who do not assist him in the deportation of millions of immigrants without due process.
We on the Board of Supervisors have three paramount responsibilities on behalf of ALL OF THOSE who live in our County: 1) to uphold the Constitutions of the U.S. and California. 2) to protect the County treasury, and 3) do all we can to protect the public’s safety. No matter who you voted for in November, coercive raids on our County budget by the federal government are not in anyone’s best interest.
A few months ago, I spoke at the County’s 23rd Domestic Violence Conference, and was reminded how this type of crime, mostly committed against women, seem to fly under the radar. Yet, one in four women in the U.S. has experienced violence by a current or former spouse or boyfriend at some point in her life.
In Santa Clara County:
• Violence crisis hotlines answered 21,000 calls, and provided over 6,600 domestic violence victims and children with in-person services during fiscal year 2016.
• Over 700 victims and children accessed emergency shelter and transitional housing services, providing them a safe place to stay and resources to escape violence and abuse.
• 18,000 bed nights were provided, but more were needed. About 2,000 were turned away because shelters were full. And those who left shelters were unable to find safe affordable housing.
• In the past two years, there have been 20 domestic violence-related deaths in the County, and the average since 1994 has been 12 a year. That’s one person a month who was fatally stabbed, shot or beaten or committed suicide to end the abuse.
In 2017, the County will focus more attention on this area and increase our support for the County Office of Women’s Policy, our Domestic Violence Council and the Domestic Violence Information and Resources Collaborative. If you suspect someone is a victim of domestic violence, share information about how to receive help. In the Year of Compassion, we must do more.
It could be said that we are so busy inventing the future in Santa Clara County and Silicon Valley that we have not taken the time to champion our past.
We, of course, are proud of our technological achievements that have changed the world. But we’re also proud of the 200 years of history that happened before the invention of the microchip.
In the coming year, we hope to pass the first test in achieving the designation of National Heritage Area. Thank you to Jack Ellwanger for bringing this program to my attention. In June 2017, we expect to complete a feasibility study for the National Park Service, the first step toward receiving the designation, which is given by the U.S. Congress. I announced our goal last year, and appointed a National Heritage Area Task Force to guide the study. Chair Rod Diridon and Vice Chair Dan McCorquodale are here tonight, along with other members. Please stand.
We have been engaging the community, with meetings across the County and presentations to history and neighborhood groups. We are on our way to receiving endorsements supporting NHA in all 15 Santa Clara County cities.
More than just a designation, NHA Areas have access to financial support for projects that that will help us tell our story in innovative ways, support our environmental beauty, increase recreation opportunities and educational programs and promote tourism.
On the topic of history, I want to congratulate all those who worked on the project that earned East San Jose’s McDonnell Hall the status of National Parks Service Historic Landmark. Once known as Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission Chapel, McDonnell Hall was the East San Jose meeting place where Cesar Chavez first learned community organizing. After the death of Rev. Deacon Sal Alvarez, who was the moving force behind the effort, his daughter Serena and his wife Sylvia Alvarez took over to get it across the finish line, please stand and be recognized.
It is clear will need to use every lesson non-violent organizing, every tactic and tool that Cesar taught us to organize ourselves effectively in the coming year. I’m sure much of the organizing that will be necessary to protect our residents. Si Se Puede!
There are other designations we are seeking that reflect the unique and special area that call home.
• Age Friendly County – Santa Clara County and all its 15 cities have been working since 2015 to receive the World Health Organization designation of an Age-Friendly County. We hope to hear by July 2017 that our efforts have paid off, and become the first County in the U.S. to be an Age-Friendly County with all its cities also receiving the designation of Age-Friendly.
• We’ve also joined the Dementia Friendly America movement to spread awareness of the growing numbers of adults with dementia and how we can help them, whether in our families or our community.
• Yes this is the Year of Compassion –and we are already a “County of Compassion” as I have tried to point out. And we can formalize that beyond this speech and our actions. In 2008, Karen Armstrong called for the creation and propagation of a Charter for Compassion calling upon religious and community leaders to take up the ethos of compassion. Since then, over 365 communities worldwide have signed onto the charter. I’m encouraging the County to sign on, too.
In her call to action, Karen explained that through her work she found that compassion was a shared common value upheld by each of them.
The fundamental motivator for me has been this kind of ethos of compassion, and I see it in the majority of us in this room. Whereas many have unwittingly taken up the flag of resistance out of a strong sense of injustice, I see us taking up the flag of compassion instead.
It is our compassion for our fellow county residents that has compelled us to action. We must show compassion to those impacted by the new administration, but we also need to show compassion for those who support the administration. As The Zen Abbott Jian Hu Shi said recently, “compassion for one another does not mean we have to agree with one another.”
Compassion is the reason we join others in solidarity at rallies and in marches here and across the nation; why our American Muslim residents have stood up in defense of undocumented immigrants from Latin American countries; why Japanese Americans in turn have stood up in defense of American Muslims; why the LGBTQ community has stood up for women’s rights.
It is the reason why there is an Asians for Black Lives organization, why Latinos have stood up in defense of Asian Americans and why the Black Lives Matters movement continues to give space to others as they lead our new civil rights movement.
I said earlier that I wanted to quote Jeff Smith and James Williams:
Let me share with you something that Dr. Smith said on Jan 17, during our women’s hearing to a standing ovation here in this chambers:
“We will have to fight for our rights to healthy communities and healthy families and healthy rights for women. We can’t stop. We will be challenged at every turn and if we don’t fight, we will lose not only our civil humanity but also our community and our nation. So, thank you all for being here and we’ll be ready to fight there with you at your side, in front of you, behind you, whatever we need to do to make sure that we prevail in our fight for the very substance of our society, the very nature and fabric of our society which is the right of women and families to set their own stage and carry their own happiness and well-being into the future.” Take a Bow, Dr. Smith.
Here’s what James Williams said during our recent Hate Crimes hearing, and I quote:
“All of us as public officials in California and all across the country, all the way down to the clerk at the front counter, we take an oath as public servants not to a party or a president or to any other official. It is an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. And an oath in California to uphold the Constitution of the state of California, and my office takes that seriously. We have to continue to be a national leader in showing what it means to be an inclusive and diverse community and one that warmly embraces all people. My office is committed to supporting the Board in that effort.”
Take a bow, James Williams.
And so, I call upon our County to be a model for the country and for the world as a County of Compassion, a County for Black Lives, American Muslims, Latinos, whether recently arrived or fourth generation, for Vietnamese refugees and their American-born children;
A county where women can feel safe walking alone, where Trans Lives are made visible and respected, where Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual residents can live openly and freely. And a county where hard working white-middle-income citizens are an equal part of our diverse tapestry and not forgotten, a county where ANYONE who wishes to live in acceptance of others can find refuge.
Yes, we must remember compassion is not theoretical, it is not reserved for those we like or agree with. We must model our compassion by directing it even at those whose view we find ridiculous or out of step with our own. As Cesar Chavez said in his Farmworker’s Prayer, “
“Help us love those who hate us, so we can change the world.”
We owe that to all our residents. Most of us care and most of us can do more to help each other.
To our larger community of nearly 2 million residents, when you see a person in need of compassion, accept and empower them.
If you see someone being bullied, speak up and speak out. If someone needs food, we have kitchens that can help him. If someone needs shelter or must flee a dangerous situation, point her toward the path of compassionate care. If someone has been released from jail or prison, give him or her a chance to start a new life. Sometimes acceptance for a child needs nothing more than a hug. Take the time to show that compassion.
This is what dignity looks like, this is true empowerment. This is our County of Compassion.
And the responsibility to make it so and keep it so lies upon all of us.
Thank you. Good Night and God Bless you.