After the Flood: San Jose Residents Show Up, Clean-up, and Find Creative Ways to Help

It’s been two weeks since the Anderson Reservoir overflowed its banks in San Jose.  After a series of punishing storms in our rain-parched state, there was simply nowhere for the water to go. Reservoirs filled, then overflowed, flooding roads and then neighborhoods in the low-lying Rock Springs neighborhood. When the banks overflowed, the reservoir had reached 105.5% capacity. The water level was almost 4 feet (meters) above the top of the spillway.
We learned over the weekend that:

More than a decade ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers considered a $7.4 million project that would have protected the Rock Springs neighborhood from last month’s devastating floods. But it concluded the project was too costly — and refused to fund it.  Source: San Jose Mercury News

Setting aside for a moment the human suffering caused by the flood, Santa Clara County says the cost of the damage is approaching $100 million, “some of which is the tab for repairing dozens of cars and more than 80 housing units with major damage in the Rock Springs neighborhood.” What heartbreak for people, many of them low-income, elderly or disabled, to be displaced from their homes. Lots of finger-pointing ensued: why weren’t they evacuated sooner? Why didn’t the city warn people living in the neighborhood of the risk? The answers seem lame: “we didn’t want to alarm them.” Instead, the waters rushed in, damaging homes, cars and meager possessions, with toxic waters overflowing the banks with contaminants gathered in the floods path.

The better story here is the outpouring of help from the residents of San Jose. Over 2,000 showed up for the first Saturday to help with major cleanup. My friend Jim Reber is hosting a fundraiser for his birthday, requesting donations towards the cleanup of Kelley Park. There’s a photo of the damage to the tea house on his fundraising page. My friend and artist Lexi Granger listed several pieces of art, discounted them, and donated 100% of the proceeds from her Etsy shop to flood victim relief.

Kieu Hoang, a billionaire businessman, donated $5 million to the fund set up by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. The fund will distribute money to nonprofits providing emergency financial assistance and other support to those displaced by last month’s flooding.

This past weekend, Mike and I  volunteered for flood cleanup at nearby Kelley Park, home to a beautiful Japanese tea house and tea gardens in San Jose.  Flood waters reached that too, sending water, mud, silt and debris across the park, over the pond and into the tea house.  The work was physically exhausting and not all together comfortable, but we felt good to be doing our small part. We had to wear long-sleeved shirts, pants, and closed-toe shoes, along with masks and goggles, provided by the city. Along with the flood debris, the receding waters deposited poison oak and poison ivy spores throughout the park and could lead to problems if we weren’t careful. After an orientation, we walked to “area ten” with a group of volunteers. Mike shoveled silt and mud from the walkways. I picked up trash (mostly plastic!) and pulled weeds along the pathways.

I volunteered for a few hours last week doing flood relief outreach at Sacred Heart Community Services.  Sacred Heart is one of four major charities tasked with serving flood victims. I placed phone calls to folks on a list of 350 registered flood victims, providing them details for seeking financial assistance. It was slow work, but with a number of volunteers we worked our way through the list. The worst of the flood damage happened in one of the poorer neighborhoods, and sadly many of the residence have nowhere to go. Two shelters remain open at a couple of community centers. Three homes are red-tagged meaning they are a complete loss,  where as yellow and green have some access, but no necessarily power or fresh water. In short, it’s a mess.

If you live in San Jose, here are ways to get involved:

The City of San Jose:  Help in Disaster: you can register as a volunteer and let them know when you’re available to help.

Sacred Heart Community Services: They’re providing outreach to flood victims, as well as distributing personal items (toothbrushes, shampoo and other toiletries), clothing, blankets and food. They have volunteer positions in the clothes closet, food pantry, sorting, phone banking, data entry and other opportunities. They will provide an orientation first. Thereafter you can sign up for shifts on their website.

Start a drive in your community, among friends, neighbors, or co-workers for blankets, bedding, food or hygiene items.

Details of Flood Recovery and available resources.

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49 thoughts on “After the Flood: San Jose Residents Show Up, Clean-up, and Find Creative Ways to Help

  1. I’m too far away to offer practical help, but I’m sending lots of positive good wishes. It’s amazing how horrible situations tend to bring out the best in people… except the politicians, who seem to spend most of their time proving they’re the Teflon Kids; nothing sticks to them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Kate. It’s been wonderful seeing the outpouring of help. The people organizing the volunteers have been wonderful, too. I agree on the politicians. I couldn’t believe what came out of our mayor’s mouth in the early days. Oy!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I knew you and Mike would volunteer to help. You both have such good hearts. I would not care to work under those conditions. The face mask would be the hardest and then your face starts to sweat inside it and the glasses. I had thought that the people of San Jose would reach out helping hands. That what shows there are more good and generous in the world than most realize. It always seems ridiculous that there are so many vacant buildings around and still there are people without housing. Thank you for being such a good soul.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Marlene, you are always such a cheerleader. Thank you! One of the questions asked in the city’s intake form is “are you willing to wear a mask and goggles”. It is most unpleasant. It was humid to begin with working next to a pond and damp grounds so I had to carefully lift my goggles now and then or I couldn’t see. We could have worked longer if we hadn’t need the protection. There are many good and generous people. Unfortunately, the press sells more papers/ads/etc. by publishing the sensational, the dramatic and the tragic. I agree with you on the vacant buildings. Even churches have asked if they can shelter homeless people during in-climate weather and the answer is no. The lawyers have us all freaked out, and everyone suffers. Sigh. xo

      Liked by 2 people

  3. So sad to hear that the Japanese Tea Garden was hit by the flood waters, I have fond memories of that spot! And doesn’t it always seem that these disasters hit the low income and vulnerable most often… so unfair. Thanks to you & Mike and all the caring people of San Jose who are helping mitigate the effects of this mess.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s such a beautiful and unexpected place in the midst of an urban setting, and the fact that it was such a lovely gift to the City makes it all the more special. I remember taking the boys there when they were small. It’s often featured on local postcards, too. It was true after Katrina as well. The lower-income areas suffered the most loss, to life and property and many still haven’t climbed up and out of that disaster. Thanks for your kind words, Barbara.

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  4. Thank you for helping with your heart and your hands. It isn’t pleasant or easy work, yet you and Mike said “yes, we will help”……..the difficulty in San Jose will be the terrible shortage of housing; especially low income housing which is almost nonexistent. What will happen to these families?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Mary Elizabeth. That is kind of you to say. You’re right of course, and that just compounds the already sad situation: where will these people go? And if the City had been on the ball, they would at least still have their cars. Where is the leadership-with-compassion? And today 45 suggested amending healthcare, cutting off many low-income residence. It’s a selfishness I simply can’t understand.

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  5. We see people doing dreadful things to each other on the news, but this sort of community action is a truth that often gets overlooked. My experience is that there is a lot more kindness in the world than we ever hear about. My thoughts are especially with the people who are homeless, and I do hope they can be housed appropriately very soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with you. The more I spend time at Sacred Heart, the more I see all the helpers. People pitch in and do what needs to be done to help others. Homelessness is a real problem here, as rents have skyrocketed. In addition to the people that are now homeless (or home-insecure), there were a number of homeless people living along the banks of the Coyote River. It’s heartbreaking. I don’t pretend to have the answers, but I feel strongly that we could do more than we are doing now. Marlene mentioned a program implemented in Utah that has worked. What is the situation like in your community?

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      • There is a lot of hidden homelessness in the UK, especially amongst young people – so many of them spend their lives ‘couch surfing’ because they don’t have a permanent home and there are so few small affordable homes for single people. Here in the countryside we don’t see many people sleeping rough, but it is a problem in the cities.

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        • What a shame. There is something so profound about having a home, even if it’s a tiny studio. We struggle with this issue even more now as rents have doubled. It shuts out all but the most wealthy. When I was single back in my early thirties, I lived in a tiny apartment for $600 a month. I was able to easily afford that on my salary. Now apartments are renting for $2,600 or $31,200 a year. That might be a starting salary out of college, leaving you with no money to live on. Since our minimum wage is only $10 per hour, someone making 20,400 per year can’t afford to live here.

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  6. It sounds horrible, with the danger of poisonous waste or material being swept into homes and public park areas. Well done for joining in with the clean up Alys. Hope those poor people get rehomed and compensated soon. In cases in Germany it has taken months for victims to get any sort of financial aid with all the red tape involved. Hope your region is better organized!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cathy, it is so often that way. We are still waiting for assistance from the federal government which is notoriously slow. Meanwhile, volunteers are going into homes to help clean and decontaminate. It’s a race against time, as the mold is already settling in, causing coughing and other respiratory issues. I did a couple of client intakes this morning at Sacred Heart Community Services. The list has grown to over 500 people seeking assistance.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. It’s always heartening when communities come together after a disaster. It restores your faith in humanity. How appropriate that you helped clean up a garden. I’m sure it was difficult, but rewarding. Good for you and I hope your community doesn’t have to go through this again.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh, what a mess. When people hear “flooding,” they think water and they think water is clean. No one thinks of the mud and filth left behind, and the black mold that grows, etc., etc. You and Mike did a very good thing, to turn your hands to this work–it must feel overwhelming.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Kerry, it is overwhelming. On also volunteering at Sacred Heart Community Services doing some of the intake forms for people who lost so much in the flood. Seeing them and hearing their stories is heartbreaking. One day at a time.

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  9. Bravo Alys and Mike and all your community friends and neighbours who’re pitching in to help. Saddly, many municiple gov’t’s learn the hard lessons by putting off infrastructor maintenance and/or repairs until it’s too late.
    It must be hard to stretch tax dollars in so many directions. Not to mention, there’s those who protest loudly about paying taxes. I guess they think the garbage fairy comes onces a week and police and firemen aren’t necessary?!
    Thank goodness for social and community minded spirited people like you that contribute so caringly to the solutions. Happy, generous people make good things happen! You make me smile xo K

    Liked by 1 person

  10. So sad and shocking, especially as it was probably preventable. Good on you for helping out. I do hope there will be a decent effort to help all the disadvantaged in particular to be rehomed appropriately.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. It seems politicians are the same the world over, they won’t spend the money, hoping that a) it will never happen or b) kind hearted people like yourselves will raise money and volunteer help. I hope the poor people who lost their homes will soon be re-homed very soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a slow process of clean-up, repairs and continued displacement, some elderly people still housed in a community center. It’s heartbreaking. And yes, it’s all about getting re-elected. No one wants to spend money where it is needed unless they get some personal payout of their own. I’m so tired of it.

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  12. This is great, Alys. It’s good to see people pull together. I wonder about the homes, though. Do you have Rebuilding Together there? It used to be Christmas in April. Depending on business, church and other participation, quite a few houses could be repaired. They always do it the last weekend in April, so it could be tight planning, and you need a good group of people (I’d say for what you’re describing 40+ some with building skills). It would be fun to participate if there’s one in your area. They’re called RPJ Housing here now, but Rebuilding together should get you there. In any event, good for you and Mike for getting out and working.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lisa, we do have Rebuilding Together here. It’s a great organization, and I was glad when they renamed the agency to better reflect what they do. I’ve seen a couple of projects here. The problem here is that many of the residents are apartments and mobile homes, not actually single-family homes. I should take a look though and see if they are involved. I’ve not read anything yet. Lots of finger pointing and squabbling though. Thanks for your kind words. It meant a lot to us to get out there and help for a few hours.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Lisa, here’s an update:
      The San José Housing Department has created a grant program for mobilehome owners who experienced flood damage. The repair work will be done by the City’s nonprofit partners: Rebuilding Together will do repairs at Golden Wheel Mobilehome park and Habitat for Humanity will do repairs at South Bay Mobilehome park. Both were selected through a competitive process to perform work up to a value of $5,000, including repairs to mobilehome skirting, stairs, duct work, or foundations.

      Good to know!

      Liked by 1 person

        • That’s true. All those industry connections pay off in dividends. I used to be on the board of a now-defunct agency called Design Response. We went in to other non-profits and revamped the space. I’m no a designer, but I was board president, secretary, fundraiser, committee chair…you know the drill. I wish I had a record of some of the amazing projects. I’m not sure what became of them.

          Liked by 1 person

  13. Oh Alys how heartbreaking for the community and yet heartwarming to hear of all the volunteers and donations. It seems like disasters provide a lens that cuts through to the soul. The blamers, the excuse givers, the advantage takers and the helpers. You are clearly a helper and your charming Mike too. Take care of others and take good care of yourselves too.
    xo

    Liked by 1 person

  14. WOW Alys, you guys have sure seen a lot of weather recently. God bless you for your big heart and wonderful service to others. It is strange to me to realize the world has been so busy moving on as my world has been so consumed of late with Julia and Matt. That is not a complaint. Far from it. They have been a joy and blessing in mine and my husbands life and I pray that we have somehow helped them through some very dark days. Tomorrow we say a formal goodbye to Jeff that I know will be difficult. Lots of family here for them. Take care of you and Mike. Stay away from yucky things not the least of which is poison oak. Hope to see you soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amy, it’s been the wildest winter in recent memory. I’m looking forward to calmer weather days ahead as spring settles in. You are such a gift to Matt and Julia. I’m so happy knowing they have you in their corner. I know you’ve made the world of difference in her life and I know you *mean* the world to her. I’m pleased to hear that Julia will be surrounded by family and friends, near and far. I hope he day is all she hoped for. I know you’ll all be exhausted.

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  15. More than a decade ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers considered a $7.4 million project that would have protected the Rock Springs neighborhood from last month’s devastating floods. But it concluded the project was too costly — and refused to fund it. Source: San Jose Mercury News
    This is the same old, same old excuse our gov’t here in CA and across the United States will use. It just makes me so angry that I am at a loss for words.

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    • Susan, isn’t that something? I’m with you. And when you read through the excuses (i.e. they knew this was an eventuality, why wait? It’s infuriating. Careless politics leads to all this human suffering, extraordinary costs, and the burden it places too, on agencies that are doing all their fine work in addition to taking on the needs of the flood victims. I shake my head.

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  16. The cost of prevention is so much less than the cost of repair and restoration.
    When we will as a people realize this?
    This is very similar to the Katrina story (and many, many others of course).
    Thank you for setting the example for all of us!! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Laura, yes, it is a story told the world over. Penny wise, pound foolish or if I spend money I won’t get reelected. It makes me crazy. You my dear are the one setting an example for all of us. Your civic engagement is inspiring.

      Liked by 1 person

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