We Are All Part of the Safety Net

On Friday, April 15th of this year, we learned about the kind of community we have in Sunnyvale. That day, there was a three-alarm fire at the Twin Pines Manor Apartment complex. Our City’s Public Safety Officers immediately worked to save everyone’s life. The American Red Cross and City of Sunnyvale staff set up a temporary shelter at the Senior Center. But it soon became clear that the entire complex was declared unsafe, and 169 people became homeless.

Just three days after the fire, Sunnyvale Community Services took over case management for all of the families. We soon realized that 80% of the families earned low- to extremely low-incomes, and now they had lost their homes, and for many, all of their belongings.

Teamwork & Hard Work

Helping 70 families rebuild their lives was going to take tremendous resources. Funding from our City, our County, The Housing Trust, dozens of corporations, and hundreds of individuals flowed in to help the families. Local hotels gave discounted rates, nonprofits stepped up with transitional housing units, and dozens of landlords eased their lease requirements for fire victims.

Every part of our agency was tapped to help the fire victims, but we also had to keep our doors open for others in need of assistance. Monday morning was also “business as usual,” with our morning delivery of fresh produce from Second Harvest Food Bank, ready to be bagged and distributed to the 900 families who come every week for healthy food they otherwise cannot afford.

Dedicated SCS staff quickly outlined special procedures to help the Twin Pines Manor residents, and partner agencies including Downtown Streets Team, CSA Mountain View, and West Valley Community Services assigned staff to work alongside of SCS.

We are happy to report that all of the 70 families have moved into permanent housing. Thanks to helpful, compassionate landlords, half of the families have been able to stay in Sunnyvale.

The Twin Pines Manor fire was an unprecedented emergency for our community. But, in September we were faced with another emergency when an apartment fire on Gail Avenue left 46 people with no place to stay. Again, many of these families are low-income without the resources to easily start over. SCS is working closely with these fire victims, just as we did with the Twin Pines Manor fire victims. Outside of these “events,” every day families and seniors come to our door. They face financial emergencies as well as year-round food insecurity. Living on the edge, low-income families and seniors are one bill away from homelessness.

Sunnyvale has been described as a “big little town” where everyone is connected. Public officials, City staff, nonprofit partners, service clubs, faith communities, and many individuals all work together, making Sunnyvale truly the “Heart” of Silicon Valley.

Marie Bernard
Executive Director, Sunnyvale Community Services