'A hand up, not a hand-out'

Community Service Agency helps those the economy left behind

It's hard living paycheck to paycheck. It's even harder if you happen to live in the heart of Silicon Valley, where, over the last 18 months, rents have jumped significantly, according to officials with the Community Service Agency.

"The rents in Mountain View and the surrounding areas have skyrocketed in the past year and a half, and working poor families are just getting squeezed," says Maureen Wadiak, associate director of CSA, a local non-profit that helps struggling people and families in Mountain View.

The Mountain View-based non-profit is one of seven local community agencies that will benefit from contributions to the Voice's annual Holiday Fund drive.

Making a gesture indicating the steep increase in local housing costs, Wadiak explained that those who come to CSA have been feeling increasingly strained lately. Some who come are sharing their apartment with another family or have to choose between paying rent and buying food, she said.

That's where the Community Services Agency comes in. Those who qualify can pick up canned food, bread, grains and fresh vegetables from the Food & Nutrition Center. The organization will assist people struggling to make rent with a one-time disbursement of funds and over the holidays the CSA redoubles its efforts -- helping families with Thanksgiving dinner staples and by collecting and giving away toys and other gifts.

On a recent Monday, the Voice talked to a local man who said he has been relying on CSA for years.

Richard Torrez grew up in Mountain View. As a youth, he struggled to keep up with his studies, but dropped out before graduating from Mountain View High School. After his parents died, he ended up homeless with no family to fall back on.

Torrez said he found a new family at CSA. "They're very good to me over here," he said. "These people helped me out."

CSA helped Torrez find low-cost housing, he visits the center regularly to get groceries, and even gets advice from his case worker on which items to choose from the pantry and how to prepare them. CSA even helps him with dog food for his companion, Lemon.

It's clear Torrez's dog means a lot to him. When his previous dog died, Torrez said, "I just gave up."

While CSA sees plenty of men and women like Torrez, along with the working poor, seniors account for a large portion of the agency's clientele, according to Tom Myers, the organization's director.

"Seniors are one of the fastest growing segments of the population here (in Silicon Valley)," Myers said. "They're also one of the segments of the population that people don't think about when they think about low income or homeless. But if you're a senior living in an apartment, and your rent keeps going up and up and up, and you're still living on a fixed income, that could be a recipe for disaster."

On Monday, many seniors waited in line for their turn to gather items from the Food & Nutrition Center. Others sat in chairs inside the lobby, waiting their turn to be helped.

The holidays are an especially busy time for CSA. The organization has been collecting baking supplies and working with local grocers so it will be able to help struggling families have a proper Thanksgiving dinner. The agency is also collecting toys, which it will distribute to parents next month, so that they may give their children gifts during this season of giving.

Both Wadiak and Myers emphasized that the agency does its best to make sure families who are having a hard time never feel undignified asking for help. "We look at it like a hand up, not a hand-out," Myers said.

Helping local parents provide gifts for their children this holiday season is great for the kids, Wadiak said. But it's also a blessing for the parents, who so often have to make tough decisions about what they can afford the rest of the year.

In the end, Myers said CSA is about creating a healthy community.

While those working in the tech sector might be thriving, there are plenty in other sectors of the local economy who are having trouble getting by, he explained. If Mountain View is to be a vibrant and diverse community, it needs to be a friendly and hospitable place to those who can't or don't want to land a job in tech.

"Healthy communities are those communities that are able to support a wide variety of socioeconomic levels," he said. "A healthy community is a community that cares."


Like this comment
Posted by kevin
a resident of Whisman Station
on Nov 22, 2013 at 2:33 pm

This sounds like a hound out to me. This guy say's he has been relying on this for years. Years, Really. You give a man fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and he is fed for life.

Like this comment
Posted by James
a resident of Whisman Station
on Nov 22, 2013 at 2:50 pm

Eventually the government should wake up to the realization that it must be the employer of last resort. #MMT

Web Link

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Posted by Jerry
a resident of Whisman Station
on Nov 22, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Neighborhoods often resist "development", equating it with greedy developers and unresponsive city government. But when housing is tight, rents go up, and suddenly the bottom 1/3 of the population has no place to go. A robust economy needs all levels! Fact is, the Bay area is growing. If we deny it, we just ensure that blue collar workers, the working poor, and seniors will eventually be pushed over the line into temporary or even permanent poverty.

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Posted by Martin Omander
a resident of Rex Manor
on Nov 22, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Jerry is right. Skyrocketing rents is a sign of a housing shortage and it is hurting the poor disproportionately. We need to build more housing, and make more of it walkable mixed development.

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Posted by observer
a resident of Castro City
on Nov 22, 2013 at 4:58 pm

I suggest the readers of this article just go down to the place on Stierlin Road at hand out time. They will see people jumping in luxury cars with bags of free food. This article portrays the one guy who was given a bike, should be an article of those abusing the system.

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Posted by wondering
a resident of Slater
on Nov 23, 2013 at 11:31 pm

I'm confused because last year I heard kids say that they got a lot of toys at home for Christmas
and then got more at the police station. Does anyone check on who might need help
and who is scamming ? Makes me question my charity gifts for this year.

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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Nov 24, 2013 at 7:16 am

OK, yes I understand some do abuse the system, gaming the system or whatever you want to call it. Most people coming for help, really do need the help, donations are needed, food is needed.

Here we are living in one of the wealthiest part of the world yet we have seniors going hungry, possibly becoming homeless or lives of people can change in a moment.

Car Accident, loss of job, rent increase, age, health or whatever life throw at you.

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Posted by renter
a resident of The Crossings
on Nov 24, 2013 at 1:10 pm

Anyone who suggests more development as the solution to high rent prices is simply out of touch. The new apartment buildings that have already gone up in Mountain View all charge rents that far exceed the average for the area. Additional housing is not depressing prices. Please revise your economic models accordingly.

One obvious safe-guard to spiraling costs, which can be enacted immediately, is rent control, but the city council is too callous to put forward such a desperately needed measure.

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Posted by OR
a resident of Castro City
on Nov 25, 2013 at 1:09 am

Hey, I was born here and grew up in Mountain View. To observer and Kevin, you guys are misguided, ill-informed and plain obnoxious. I can not afford to live in this area. Most of my childhood friends have moved far away. Our community is now a population of have and have nots. There are 10,000 homeless people from San Francisco to San Jose. Some are local, many are not. You two seem so callous and cold, you probably wish the homeless were all dead. Higher education is expensive and out of reach, it's almost impossible to acquire new marketable skills. Meanwhile, the local CEO's have in-sourced, outsourced, automated and off-shored so many of our local jobs. So teach me, or come up with a better solution instead of blabbering about fishing. Why would you fish here anyway, it's all polluted and the fish are deformed. Read the other article in the Voice about contaminated ground water.

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Posted by @Martin Omander
a resident of Monta Loma
on Nov 25, 2013 at 2:50 pm

Just because you have walkable mix of houses, doesn't mean that all of them will not own cars. We already have enough houses and apartments and we have traffic thanks to people like you that want more and more people bunched up. I guess we should make this look like the slums of india.

Before we add one more apartment complex, I think the city needs to change the timing of the lights to allow a smoother traffic flow. Or is there no money for that?

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Posted by Steve
a resident of another community
on Nov 25, 2013 at 3:28 pm

'Hand up' suggests short term rescue, with guidance out of whatever temporary misery is being experienced. From the article, these giveaways seem more like simple handout/maintenance programs. I'm sure they're appreciated, but they won't do squat to actually end any problems.

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Posted by SP Phil
a resident of Shoreline West
on Nov 25, 2013 at 6:41 pm

Observer writes: "This article portrays the one guy who was given a bike"--

What article are you reading? I see nothing about a bike in this article.

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Posted by musical
a resident of another community
on Nov 27, 2013 at 7:14 am

See photo #3, looks like a $400 Schwinn to me.

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Posted by SP Phil
a resident of Shoreline West
on Nov 27, 2013 at 8:38 pm

Musical: So the fellow has a tricycle so he can carry his groceries and stuff and get around. You speculated that it cost $400.

What are you proposing that he do? Sell the bike and get around how? Carry groceries around how?

Obviously the guy doesn't own a car. Are you suggesting that poor people don't need any transportation?

Yes, there are poor people who own cars and TV sets and personal computers. Have you thought how much cash you would really raise if you sold your car, your TV set, your PC? Not very much, far less than you paid for it. And you still need to get around--shopping, job hunting, getting kids to the doctor; your TV provides some inexpensive entertainment because you can't afford to go to movies or other entertainment; and your PC is probably worth at most a couple hundred bucks.

The notion (implied by other people) that poor people should be stripped of all their possessions before they can get food for their families is just stunning.

Like this comment
Posted by James
a resident of Whisman Station
on Dec 7, 2013 at 7:12 am

Web Link

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