‘We’re you': What it’s like to be homeless in Silicon Valley

 

When most people leave work after a long day at the office, they hop in their car and look forward to resting their head in a bed for the night. For Chuck Jagoda, the very car he uses in his commute is his nightly shelter.

At his day job at Community Technology Alliance, Jagoda looks like any average employee. He works in the customer service department at the San Jose-based nonprofit organization that seeks to end homelessness through technological- and data-based solutions.

Community Technology Alliance provides technology solutions to nonprofits that are seeking to end poverty and homelessness. These nonprofits, which are based in locations all over the country, think of CTA as their “technological backbone.”

In reality, Jagoda is one of the 6,556 homeless people in Santa Clara County. Every night, he sleeps in the backseat of his car. “A lot of being homeless has to do with being a boy scout,” he said. “Many homeless people are happy to camp out. I mean I think they’d rather have a real home, but as a way to get by without a real home, camping out isn’t bad.”

Jagoda is able to gain access to work experience at Community Technology Alliance through a program of the Downtown Streets Team. One of the initiatives of this Bay Area nonprofit is to get homeless people experience and exposure in a work environment. Jagoda is not an official employee of CTA. Instead, he receives stipends from Downtown Streets Team for the time he puts in at CTA’s San Jose office.

Though Jagoda is officially just a volunteer at CTA, he is a highly valued member of the team. “I think having Chuck here definitely makes what we’re doing feel more critical,” said CEO Jen Padgett. “It just puts an urgency to it.”

CTA Special Project Manager Allan Báez, added: “Having that perspective of the [homeless person] gives us a lot of insight on how homeless people see us.”

In his free time, Jagoda advocates for the homeless community’s rights at public town hall meetings. He also has written several letters to the editor of local newspaper publications, many of which have been published.

When prompted to think about how he would like the general public to view homeless people, Jagoda has the following to say:

“Imagine if 7,600 people in Palo Alto all became homeless one morning when a certain sized earthquake hit,” he said. “[Wouldn’t we] all feel like our fellow friends are in need, and ask ‘what can I do to help?’”

Jagoda has even stronger feelings on how he doesn’t want people to view the homeless. “Don’t think of us as some foreign invading force,” he said. “We’re you, two paychecks down the road or one car accident down the road. We’re you.”

CORRECTION – Editor’s Note (6/22/2015): In this story originally published June 18, 2015, Peninsula Press misstated that there were 19,068 homeless people in Santa Clara County. According to the county’s 2015 point-in-time count, released June 22, 2015, the most accurate figure is 6,556.