Tonight was my first San Jose Human Services Commission meeting and we started to dig into some really interesting issues. I asked my big question and signed-up for the two committees I mentioned in my pre-meeting post (Children’s Rights, with focus on helping those impacted by federal immigration policy; Human Trafficking, with an open mind towards which communities are particularly impacted in San Jose).
The answer to my big question about the proposed San Jose Women’s Bill of Right’s mixed use of the terms “sex” and “gender” and how that might impact transgender and gender non-conforming San Jose residents is going to the Assistant City Attorney who drafted the memo about it, since he also drafted the bill.
We heard a presentation from our liaison to City Council about the city’s current approach to serving survivors of human trafficking. Given my background on that issue, I brought a lot of technical questions which she’ll be bringing answers about to the next meeting:
- The council liaison reported that in the past 6 months, the San Jose Police Department has arrested 230 women for engaging in commercial sex and 4-5 purchasers of sex. I highlighted the injustice represented by this ratio and brought up the promising work of Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes on flipping the ratio of arrests of women arrests of purchasers of sex (Read about the policy in his own words). I will be following-up.
- The council liaison reported that the District Attorney’s office was offering a diversion program for the 230 women in commercial sex who now have arrests on their records. I asked:
- Does this diversion program include record expungement? The council liaison was interested when I mentioned I had model legislation and a policy brief to add this to the city code, if it wasn’t already included.
- How many women were offered services and by whom?
- What training does Law Enforcement in San Jose receive to allow them to determine whether someone is a survivor of trafficking or not? There was an emphasis in the presentation on the women being arrested being over 18, but as anyone who’s met me and heard me talk about trafficking for more than 30 seconds knows, millions of adults are survivors of trafficking too. The council liaison mentioned many of the women had pimps, which is a strong potential signal of a trafficking situation.
- The council liaison mentioned how happy residents of District 7 and 3 were that so many women were being arrested, which is a deeply troubling approach.
- Another commissioner asked how many of the women were vulnerable to trafficking because of their immigration status; thankfully, the county does not track status at the jail, but this is something perhaps a service-providing nonprofit might be able to shed some light on.
tl;dr: If the tone of the presentation was anything to go by, there is a lot of room to help San Jose approach ending human trafficking in a more survivor centric way.
Our excellent staff liaison shared some of the work local nonprofits have been doing in identifying people who need to get the census but whose living situation isn’t necessarily up-to-code (living in a shed, a garage, etc). It turns out, the federal census bureau relies on cities to give them the addresses of all of their residents, and as more and more people are moving into tenuous living situations, San Jose residents could lose millions of dollars in federal funds because they don’t get counted.
She said the nonprofits had helped find nearly 12,000 people who the US Census Bureau did not have in their records.
I asked if there was a way people could self-identify to a nonprofit to help with the count, without outing themselves as to their code/immigration situation and she said not easily, but she would look into it.
This is an interesting window into the impact of not having the right kinds of housing for our growing community and how hidden housing can create a funding spiral for local governments.
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
Our commission staffer let us know the Human Services Commission would probably end up being the oversight body for at least some of the San Jose Bill of Rights. I asked for us to find out how much other cities had spent implementing their CEDAW integrations, given that budgets are statements of values and by passing this bill, San Jose should be making as strong a statement as San Francisco did when they funded a department to carry out the bill (which included $4.3mil in grants from their Department on the Status of Women to 31 community organizations).
The San Francisco Department on the Status of Women recommends budgeting $.10 to $.25 per woman resident of a city, which for San Jose would be about $100,000-$250,000 to carry out a local ordinance. To be clear, our commission has no budget, but we can make a recommendation to council that they fund this work. All budget processes are competitive, but if we don’t ask for something, we’ll never get anything.
Ad Hoc Committees
I made my first substantive motion today as an appointed official! I moved that we accept the proposed ad hoc committees.
Big Take Aways
I very much enjoyed my first commission meeting. The chair has created a collegial and engaged atmosphere. I was very disappointed by the non-survivor-centric approach to ending human trafficking that was reflected in the report, but that just means there is vital work to do on that issue. I’m pushing for some interesting items to be on the next meeting’s agenda; I’ll post it when it’s official.
I’m still thinking through the best ways to connect with District 2 on the issues and priorities of the commission; I was thinking of hosting office hours at the library, in addition to keeping an open inbox. If you have seen a great approach, please bend my ear.
I’ll have a commissioner’s email soon, but if you want to get in contact with me about this or anything else before that goes live, feel free to reach out at 650-804-9044 or Jessica.firstname.lastname@example.org.