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Department ofReligious Studies


Service is not Structural Change: Addressing Homelessness in Silicon Valley

Prof. Philip Boo Riley sees it as crucial to build friendships with unhoused folks in our community. He is passionate about addressing the problem of skyrocketing homelessness and dehumanization of the marginalized in Silicon Valley--but he does not solely believe in what he calls our “default setting” toward the suffering: service.

To Riley, “service” is handing out socks, meals, water, and other provisions to the unhoused in order to address some of their needs. Yet, he notes, service does “not seem to be doing anything to reduce homelessness.” With this in mind, Riley asks the burning question: “Why aren’t more faith communities doing more of the structural road work around homelessness--calling out forces like social inequality, commodification of housing, criminalization of marginality?”

Further pushes toward a more socioeconomically exclusive San Jose, such as the Google deal, only serve to grow the unhoused community and widen the Silicon Valley income gap. At this, Riley invokes the words of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it understands that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” To build friendships with the unhoused is to begin to understand this “true compassion,” and to learn that service should not be where the fight against homelessness begins and ends.