CEO leads march past City Hall

November; National Youth Homeless Awareness Month

CEO of the Bill Wilson Center Sparky Harlan gives a tour of the kitchen for the Drop-In Center. She educated new sources on the type of resources they could offer residents; most prepackaged due to lack of funding.

Protesters marched from San Jose City Hall to the Bill Wilson Center to bring awareness to youth homelessness on Nov. 10.

Guest speakers, including Councilmembers Matt Mahan and David Cohen, SJCC’s Director of Student Activities and Development Blake Balajadia and Chief Executive Officer of the BWC Sparky Harlan, welcomed attendees and educated them on the importance of tackling youth homelessness before the walk began.

The BWC is a non-profit organization that helps Santa Clara County youth gain access to services that will help them to find shelter, food, employment and more.

Harlan, who has been the Chief Executive Officer at the BWC for 39 years, was homeless herself for many years starting at the age of 18.

“I was tossed out of my house at age 17,” Harlan said. “I was living on-and-off the street and going to college, and (my) college never knew it.”

Harlan said her job from her group home saved her. She worked 50 plus hour shifts to make the money she needed, but still recognizes that youth homelessness now looks a lot different than when she was homeless.

“This is your program, this is your population, these are your peers, you design it,” Harlan said. “Things change, so we listen to our young people and say, ‘Tell us what you want. What do you need? What’s your situation?’ You design a program. You don’t like what we’re doing? Tell us what you do want.’”

Linn Morison, who worked for the BWC for 25 years and helped to co-organize the first youth homeslessness walk, advocated for what she believed to be the main solution to youth homelessness.

“The biggest thing is funding, obviously,” Morrison said. “Funding and allowing people and agencies, like the BWC, to do their job. To trust that these people know what they’re doing so don’t put strings attached [to the money].”

Picketers marched to the Drop-In Center, a program of the BWC dedicated to helping homeless youths (from ages 14-25), whose primary purpose is to help find safe and permanent housing. Services include food, personal care items, access to technology, showers, laundry care and support services.

Trevon Evas, a resident of the Drop-In Center, said the BWC makes his life a whole lot easier.

“My friend actually directed me here…I bought my ticket on the greyhound instantly. I came out here with one duffle bag of clothes and that’s it,” Evas said. “Now I have a car, I have a job and I’m soon to have a house, and that’s all thanks to the Bill Wilson Center.”

Evas spoke about how he believes everyone has a different solution to solving youth homeslessness, but a big one for him is to build more non-profit shelters. He said it matters because what causes a lot of homelessness is the, “greed on wanting to claim territory.”

SJCC offers a program called the Guardian Scholars. This is a service that offers SJCC students foster and homeslessness support.

Balajadia, who has worked at SJCC for almost 10 years, brought his family to march for the cause.

“I have my kid sitting on my shoulders. To think that somewhere, someplace, a kid like him, is without a family and without a place,” Balajadia said. “And being an educator, seeing what that effect does when they have community, and they have education, and they have support; I feel like it’s such an important thing for us to focus on as a region.”

Balajadia elaborated to say it is important to tackle this issue not only as a region but as individuals. He encourages others to show support and rally where they can and at the very least, offer a simple, “Hello!” to anyone they can.

Click for more information on The Bill Will Center or SJCC Support Programs.