Newsletter: A low-tech approach in Silicon Valley

Sorting mail inside "the Window" at Catholic Charities John XXIII Multi Service Center in San Jose.
(Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Oct. 2, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

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We talk a lot about the enormity of the homelessness crisis in California, and the seeming intractability of an issue fueled by such a complex web of factors.

But what about the small things that can make a tangible difference in people’s lives as they get back on their feet? They may not make for sweeping narratives or answers-with-a-capital-A, but they’re worth celebrating and replicating when done well. Here’s an example out of San Jose.


The most basic fact of homelessness — not having a place to live — also means that most people experiencing homelessness have no consistent mailing address. Amid all the other basic needs to be met, having a place to receive mail may seem like a minor detail. But it’s often essential to receiving continued social services, to say nothing of trying to apply for a job or remain enrolled in school.

“If you apply for, let’s say, affordable housing and you’re on a wait list, there’s no way to get back to you if you’re living in a car or if you’re in a shelter or if you’re living in the doorway of some merchant,” said Sharon Miller, director of cathedral social ministries at Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County. “You need a mailing address to know if it’s time to check in because your affordable housing is available.”

“The Window” offers a safe place in San Jose for people experiencing homelessness and those recently released from incarceration to receive mail while in transition and rebuilding their lives.

The program has been in operation since the late 1980s, but Miller said that the number of individuals they serve “escalated fairly exponentially” over the last five years, as broader homelessness numbers surged in San Jose. The city’s 2019 point-in-time count recorded a 42% increase from 2017.

Miller said 920 individuals are registered to receive mail there, and the staff sees about 150 people a day. Clients can drop by from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. to pick up their mail and grab a sandwich or some toiletries while they’re there.

[See also: “How an unassuming window in San Jose fills a crucial need for the homeless” in the Mercury News]

All of this exists alongside access to broader services — there is an adjoining free healthcare clinic, and the Window itself is staffed by “service navigators” and volunteers who can direct individuals toward other stabilizing resources. “From the unemployment office to what bus they need to take, to how to just navigate their life,” Miller said. “Because it can be pretty complex if all of a sudden you’re homeless one day and you really don’t know what to do or where to go.”

That’s how the Window, which is a joint project of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph and Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, got its name.

“Social workers, the business community, the police department, they would say, ‘Go to the window right next to the church. They’ll help you, they’ll tell you what you need to do,’” Miller recalled. The project is no longer in the same location next to St. Joseph (it is now housed in Catholic Charities’ John XXIII Multi-Service Center on East San Fernando Street) but the name and message stuck.

And in the heart of Silicon Valley, where so much focus is placed on disruptive innovation, the Window provides a decidedly low-tech solution to a concrete need.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:


The head of a West Hollywood private school where dozens of wealthy parents allegedly had their children’s SAT and ACT exams fixed signaled that he would plead guilty and cooperate with investigators, a blow to parents who have maintained their innocence in the college admissions scandal. The plea is a coup for prosecutors. Los Angeles Times

Juul will end its support for Proposition C, a ballot measure to overturn San Francisco’s ban on the sale of e-cigarettes. The vape giant has already poured millions into promoting it, and the proposition will still appear on the Nov. 5 ballot. San Francisco Chronicle


L.A. gave the former city planning chief a $54,750 consulting gig. But did he do any work? Los Angeles Times

Times food columnist Lucas Peterson is launching a video series. Check out the trailer from the paper’s favorite power-ranker, Cheesecake Factory-reviewer and In-N-Out French fry-slanderer. Los Angeles Times

The world’s largest venue management company will take shape in Los Angeles after a merger between the global firm that owns Staples Center and hosts the Emmys and a business that manages entertainment spaces including the Greek Theatre. AEG Facilities, owned by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz, will combine with Pennsylvania-based SMG to form ASM Global. Los Angeles Times

In a strange blast from the past, former L.A. City Councilman Mitch Englander was on the first episode of “House Hunters” when it aired in 1999. Twenty years after the premiere of the HGTV series, Englander and his wife discuss their terrible filming experience. Vice

A homeless woman has a viral moment belting Puccini in the L.A. subway and, suddenly, new prospects. Los Angeles Times

Thanks to Alta Magazine, a piece of a long-missing L.A. Library sculpture was found in Arizona. Now, where are the other two? Los Angeles Times

The Well of the Scribes has been missing from Los Angeles Central Library since 1969. A portion of the sculpture has been discovered in Arizona.
(Los Angeles Public Library)

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Lugging water into the desert for thirsty migrants unites this couple. Trump divides them. Los Angeles Times


The Democratic presidential candidates keep talking tough on Silicon Valley, but they’re still holding big fundraisers there. At least 16 events featuring six candidates or spouses were scheduled to raise money over a six-day period that ends Wednesday. (However, “the two candidates who have been most critical of tech — Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — have notably not been raising Silicon Valley money.”) Recode

And on that note... In a leaked audio, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he would “go to the mat” to fight Warren’s plan to break up Facebook. The audio is from two open meetings with Facebook employees and reveals Zuckerberg speaking more candid-than-usual language. The Verge

Rep. Devin Nunes filed another lawsuit this week, this time against magazine writer Ryan Lizza and Hearst Magazines, the parent company of Esquire. The complaint centers on a 2018 Esquire story titled “Devin Nunes’ Family Farm Is Hiding a Politically Explosive Secret.” Fresno Bee

The Central Valley congressman seems uniquely dedicated to educating the general public about the “the Streisand Effect,” a phenomenon whereby the attempt to suppress or censor something has the unintended consequence of bringing much more attention to it. (See also: Nunes’ lawsuit against the Twitter account pretending to be his cow, which now has more followers than the congressman, and singer Barbra Streisand’s 2003 lawsuit to get photos of her beach house taken offline, which, of course, brought infinitely more attention to the photos and named the phenomenon in question.)


Oakland is suing Alameda County in an effort to prevent the county from selling its ownership share of the Coliseum Complex to the Oakland A’s so that the team can build a new stadium along the estuary. East Bay Times


Fresno, California’s poorest big city, faces a different kind of housing crisis. In communities where housing costs had once been a relative bargain, a sharp rise in rental costs is making life less affordable for low-income families. CityLab

California drivers are paying $1.29 more a gallon for gas than the U.S. average. Orange County Register

A film directed by First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom “created an uproar” when it was shown at a Stanislaus County middle school. The documentary, which is about young men negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity, reportedly shows images of women in lurid poses during a scene about young men looking for porn online. The images are blurred or pixelated, but they did not leave enough to the imagination for this seventh-grade classroom. Modesto Bee

The untold stories of San Francisco’s Fairmont penthouse: The lavish eighth floor of the hotel rents for $`18,000 a night and has hosted everyone from John F. Kennedy (and, rumor has it, Marilyn Monroe along with him) to Alfred Hitchcock ... and the Kardashian clan. SF Gate

Here are 15 iconic San Francisco cakes, from old-fashioned to elaborate. Eater SF

The town of Bolinas wanted to stay hidden — then came the internet. Short-term rentals and a dearth of housing have helped push working families out of this Northern California coastal enclave. Curbed SF

Former Oakland Raider Antonio Brown took to Twitter to solicit help for his English paper. Brown, who re-enrolled in college this semester, needed someone to proofread the assignment before his midnight deadline. Mercury News

From the annals of the Way We Live Now: A meditation on the rise of the “Getting Real” post on Instagram, wherein the influencer temporarily ducks the veil of curated perfection for some my-life-isn’t-actually-this-great catharsis. The New Yorker


Los Angeles: sunny, 81. San Diego: sunny, 74. San Francisco: sunny, 68. San Jose: sunny, 75. Sacramento: sunny, 79. More weather is here.


“But this is October, and Los Angeles / seethes like a billboard under twilight.”

— -Garrett Hongo, “Yellow Light”

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.