Bill Wilson Center raises awareness for Homeless and Runaway Youth
Story and Photos by Alissa Reyes

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Bill Wilson Center raises awareness for Homeless and Runaway Youth

To kick off National Youth Homelessness and Runaway Prevention Month, the Bill Wilson center held their Green Light Rally and Walk on Nov. 4. The group decked themselves out in green and walked a mile from San Jose City Hall to the Bill Wilson Drop-In Center at 693 South 2nd St. San Jose.

“A lot of people don’t think their own kids or their friends being runaways or homeless so we’re trying to shed light on it,” said Bill Wilson Center CEO Sparky Harlan. “Runaway and homeless kids are pretty invisible... especially in San Jose.”

Harlan said that they’re trying to educate people that this population–homeless and runaway youth–exists. The group also walked by 2nd and 1st St. in downtown San Jose where homeless youth tend to congregate.

“We are walking! Walking for our Future!” chanted the group. Some played instruments–like drums, bells, clappers, tambourines and even cowbells–while others held signs, banners and green balloons. Multiple attendees wore green outfits but they also handed out green glow sticks at the rally. Cars honked at the group in support and each time the group cheered loudly.

This is their fourth year hosting this event to bring awareness to the youth that are homeless or unstably housed. They hold the event at San Jose City Hall to catch the attention of passersby and the elected politicians that leave their offices.

In 2015, the Santa Clara County Point-in-Time Count reported there were 6,556 homeless people in Santa Clara County. Children and young adults make up 1,300 of that total. They’re looking to do another detailed count by 2020, according to Marketing & Communications Manager Robin B. Reynolds.

The event included families, students from local schools, Bill Wilson’s Youth Task Force and even local leaders. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez spoke at the rally to implore the attendees to vote in the Nov. 8 election and vote yes on Measure A.

“We can do this!” chanted Liccardo with the crowd. “Alright, Let’s do this!”

“Measure A is huge to us especially after we lost redevelopment in Santa Clara,” said Harlan. “That really provided a lot of housing for our kids in the City of Santa Clara and it totally dried up after redevelopment went away. Measure A is our chance to get housing back for homeless youth.”

Harlan said she wants to encourage young people to join the walk and get involved. You don’t have to be homeless or a runaway to get involved, said Harlan at the rally. Chavez’s speech followed a similar theme.

“We can end homelessness,” said Chavez to the youth at the rally. “No pressure but change the world.”

It was a fairly warm November evening and after the speeches wrapped up it was about 6 P.M. and the sun was setting. As they marched the night grew darker and the attendee’s glow-in-the-dark green accessories lit up the night.

After the walk, attendees were invited to tour the Drop-In Center and help themselves to refreshments. This center is a “One Stop Shop” for youth who need help. It provides resources like basic necessities and counseling.

Bill Wilson’s event was one of the first in California for the month. Many other organizations will also hold events to bring awareness to homeless and runaway youth.

Also this month, the Marsalli Family will be providing dinner for Bill Wilson youth that reside at Peacock Commons (3661 Peacock Ct, Santa Clara).

The Adopt-A-Family 2016 Holiday Giving Program is actually going on right now. If you visit www.billwilsoncenter.org/ways_to_give/adoptafamily.html you can learn more and donate. Last year the holiday giving program helped provide gifts to 1,600 kids and families around Christmas time.