15 questions with local activist + volunteer Batman of San José

Batman of San José | Photo by SJtoday staff

You might see him walking the streets of Downtown or watching the city from a rooftop

His name? Batman, of course. This caped crusader has garnered significant media attention for his work helping the unhoused community in San Jose.

We spoke with Batman about his superhero origin story, his greatest victories, and how other San Joseans can take heroic, everyday action to help those in need. (These answers have been condensed for formatting purposes.)

Q: When did it first become important to you to start serving San Jose’s unhoused community? Why was that?

A: I first started really noticing the issue of houselessness towards the tail end of my junior year of high school. I was driving home from school one day, and I saw this person with the hood of their car up, like something was wrong with the battery of the car. I had been stuck in a similar situation like a week before, so I figured I’d pull over and help out. It turns out, they were living out of their car, and they were trying to get somewhere to see some family. Conveniently, there was this auto repair shop in the same parking lot.

I walked in and I said “Hey, this person out in the parking lot they need help jumpstarting their car, do you think you’d get one of those boxes?” The first thing they asked me was “Are they living in their car?” They said that it was against company policy to help people who are living out of their cars. At that moment, it kind of shocked me that this is how isolated people are, and nobody is willing to help. In a lot of cases, it feels like the world is against you in that regard.

So, I bugged the dude in the same tone of voice and with a smile like “You’re not getting rid of me until you do the right thing.” I think that went on for a couple hours until finally, he was like, “Alright, when I get off my shift at seven, I’ll help.” And then I waited till seven, caught him before he started out the door, and I jumpstarted the car in literally 30 seconds — it was the easiest thing in the world. The woman was so appreciative of the help to the point of tears. And I looked at the front desk guy’s face, and it was a moment of realization that he didn’t “see her” until then. That kind of stuck with me, that whole idea of people seeing people but not really seeing them. And I thought, “Hey, maybe I should do something about it.”

 

“Big cape, pointy ears — it’s kind of hard to miss.” | Photo by SJtoday staff
Q: Tell us about your superhero suit. What gave you the idea to don the Batsuit?

A: I really noticed that people will do anything to avoid paying attention to the problem, and I understand that it’s hard to focus on people who are suffering — it’s uncomfortable. But it’s getting to the point now where people will step over, around, or on people to avoid paying attention to those who need help. So I figured, okay, how can I get people to see people? How can I kind of force them to acknowledge the fact that we have people who need help?

And, you know, I had done like, Comic Cons and stuff like that before, and Batman has always been my favorite comic book character. I decided — big cape, pointy ears — it’s kind of hard to miss. If this is the level of ridiculousness it’s getting to — teenagers running around Halloween costumes, trying to help people — that’s a failing of our society. We should not be in this situation; we should be doing more. So I just really wanted people to acknowledge that and to focus on it.

And, you know, Batman is also great because it helps with conversation. A lot of the time with people who I’m trying to help, it can be very difficult to put your trust in anybody. The whole Batman thing actually helps ease into conversation, because they immediately know what you’re about. You’re Batman, you help people.

Q: What’s the most challenging thing about your work?

A: The most difficult thing for me is I’ve known a lot of good people out here who have passed away, or even made it to housing and then their body just gave out because it was too late. And children especially hit me really hard because they’re always really excited to see Batman — and I was that kid once. I’m no different than that kid. It’s heartbreaking. 

Q: What’s the most rewarding thing about your work?

On the other side of things, I guess the most rewarding thing is the friendships I’ve made with people. For example, there’s one family I’ve been helping for a while — a single mother with a three year old kid when I met them. He’s five now and he’s graduating kindergarten — and I got an invitation to go. Just being able to have that success — just a minor one — where that kid gets to be happy for a day, go to school, get an education, and, you know, not have to worry about sleeping under a bridge… It’s very rewarding to know that, at least for the meantime, they’re gonna be safe. They’re gonna be okay. It feels good to get a win every once in a while. 

Q: What’s the biggest misconception locals might have about the people you help?

A: There are so many misconceptions that it would take forever to name them all. But I think the biggest one is that people are, for some reason, undeserving of help. That is the one I have encountered the most by far. And it’s horrifying to me, because people don’t understand the difficulties that people are encountering on a day-to-day basis when they lose their housing. 

Another misconception is that everybody has mental health issues or is a drug addict. Yeah, there are people who have mental health issues and who are struggling and fighting addiction. But that doesn’t make them any less worthy of help — if anything, they deserve more help. A lot of these people turn to these substances in order to cope with the sheer amount of pressure of being unhoused. I understand the thought process of trying to find anything to cope with something that is insurmountably painful — like, I can’t even fathom that level of just feeling hopeless. It’s just awful that people think that because of these things that people are undeserving of help, because they’re just human beings. In my opinion, everybody is under five steps away from becoming unhoused. It is ridiculously terrifying, how easy it can happen to anybody.

Q: From your perspective, how has the homelessness situation in San Jose changed since you started going out as Batman?

A: You know, I wish I could say it has gotten better, but it’s far from that. I’m seeing more and more people becoming unhoused and poor, and ultimately, not making it.

On top of that, I feel that the City of San Jose’s policies towards those who are unhoused or homeless have become increasingly hostile. I don’t think it is the right move to come into a space where people have tried to build a home to survive and tear that out, potentially causing them to lose government documents and other really important items that they need to survive. I understand we want public parks, we want these facilities, but maybe we can’t have those facilities until we help all the people who don’t have a home.

If we’re going to move people, we need to have a safe location to move them to where they can receive the help they need, instead of just shuffling them around, leading to more distrust. People in the unhoused community are very scared of what’s going on right now.

It took over six months for Batman to make this DIY + 3D-printed suit. | Photo by SJtoday staff
Q: You’re currently attending college in Rochester, NY. Why do you keep coming back to San Jose?

A: If I can make some sort of difference, I wanted to do that for my community that I grew up in since birth. I’ve made a lot of friends here, and I want to make sure that they’re okay.

I’m also doing work in Rochester, as well. It’s very difficult with the weather, but if I’m living there, I want to help, because I feel that it’s our responsibility as members of this community to do more to help each other out.

Q: What’s an improvement you’d like to see in San Jose?

A: Obviously, I would love for everybody to just get housing — but the number one thing I want to see is that, instead of being hostile, judgmental, cruel, or just apathetic towards people, you know, literally just say hi to people — it is the easiest thing in the world to treat another human being like a human being.

You don’t have to get up every day and put on a ridiculous Halloween costume and run around trying to help people. You can literally just carry a case of water in your car, so if you see somebody on the side of the road, just throw them a water bottle.

Q: What do you hope San Jose is like in 10 years? 20 years?

A: Let’s say five years, because I think 10 years is too long. 20 years is scary.

I think, five years from now, I want to see more people receiving mental health care, more people receiving rehab in a non-judgmental, more friendly, and open way. I want to see people receiving housing that is livable and humane.

I want to see that little kid graduate high school and graduate college, and not have to worry about sleeping under some bridge at night. At the end of the day, if that happens, then I’ll be happy.

Q: What life advice or epiphany would you share with others that you’re thankful you learned?

A: Other than wearing a full suit of armor, and like 95 degree heat is not a smart decision?

I’ve become much more thankful for my situation and for my parents. I’ve been so lucky. I think people should recognize that — but not take that as in, oh, I’m so lucky, everybody else is unlucky. The number one thing I’ve realized is that it’s not black and white, it’s very gray. People are out on the streets for all sorts of reasons.

Q: Name 3-5 other local movers + shakers (or other heroes) you’re watching.

A: Crimson Fist. They’re another masked hero working up in Oakland, primarily. They basically have been coming out and doing the exact same thing I’ve been doing — sometimes better.

Food Not Bombs is a great organization that has been doing this work longer than probably I’ve been alive. They do work all over the city.

Feed the Block and B.L.A.C.K. Outreach are two great mutual aid organizations that are doing everything and they are just so impressive, working to help as many people as they possibly can. 

When I started doing service hours for school, I went to Sacred Heart Community Service, and they do a great job, too.

Q: What’s something every new San Josean oughta know about living here? 

A: It’s a very fast-paced city, everybody’s going somewhere. If you’re alone, or you feel like you don’t have anybody to talk to, reach out to people. There’s a lot of friendly people in the most unexpected places.

Q: Describe San Jose’s personality in three words. 

A: Hectic. Good people.

Every hero needs their gear — Batman’s wagon includes food, water, blankets, and a fire extinguisher if a fire breaks out at an encampment. | Photo by SJtoday staff
Q: How can San Jose residents get involved with or support your work?

A: If I can get donations to help me do my work, I’m very appreciative of that. It means I can do this longer and I can be more effective — like, I can get people tents and stuff like that, which are a little bit pricey.

But in my personal opinion, I think it’s so much more valuable for people to actually get out there and do some work if you have the time. That could be volunteering with a nonprofit or mutual aid organization, or working with me directly.

If you want to ask me any questions, or even come out and do work with me, I’m more than happy to connect.

Q: For folks who want to start distributing supplies to the unhoused community — how should they get started? 

A: I am currently working on a tutorial of sorts to help explain how I do my outreach, which I’ll upload to my Instagram page as soon as it’s ready, but to get started, try to carry a case of water or juice, new packs of socks or underwear, and some snacks in your car or bag when you are out, and if you see someone who you think might need something, just stop and politely ask them if they would like anything that you have! Other than that, I’d highly recommend volunteering with any of the organizations listed below to get started.

Batman’s resources to get started

Batman Of San José

  • Financial support: Venmo (@Batman-4-homeless), CashApp ($BatmanOfSanJose), Patreon
  • Where to volunteer: Contact via Instagram
  • Physical donations accepted: Clean blankets, tents, sleeping bags, new socks, new underwear, cases of water
  • Where to donate items: Contact via Instagram

Sacred Heart Community Service

  • Financial support
  • Volunteer 
  • Physical donations accepted: Pop-top cans and other packaged food items. Blankets, sleeping bags, shampoo, bar soap (both full size + travel size), toothbrushes, toothpaste, tampons, sanitary pads, diapers (both infant and adult), infant formula, deodorant, new socks, and new underwear. Clean, gently-used clothing is also accepted here. Note: They cannot accept homemade food.
  • Where to donate items: 1381 S. First Street

Food Not Bombs San José

  • Financial support: N/A
  • Where to volunteer + donate items: St. James Park, every Sunday at 2 p.m.
  • Physical donations accepted: Pop-top cans and other packaged food items. Blankets, sleeping bags, shampoo, bar soap (both full size + travel size), toothbrushes, toothpaste, tampons, sanitary pads, diapers (both infant and adult), infant formula, deodorant, new socks, and new underwear. Note: They cannot accept homemade food.

Food Not Bombs Columbus Park

  • Financial support 
  • Where to volunteer + donate items: On the corner of Asbury St. + Spring St., every Saturday at 2 p.m.
  • Physical donations accepted: Pop-top cans and other packaged food items. Blankets, sleeping bags, shampoo, bar soap (both full size + travel size), toothbrushes, toothpaste, tampons, sanitary pads, diapers (both infant and adult), infant formula, deodorant, new socks, and new underwear. Note: They cannot accept homemade food.

LifeMoves

Crimson Fist

  • Financial support: Venmo (@thecrimsonfist) 
  • Where to volunteer: Contact via Instagram 
  • Physical donations accepted: Clean blankets, tents, sleeping bags, new Socks, new underwear, cases of water
  • Where to donate items: Contact via Instagram 

Martha’s Kitchen San Jose

Grace Solutions San Jose

Soulution Bay Area

  • Financial support: Venmo (@soulutionsj)
  • Where to volunteer: Contact via Instagram
  • How to donate items: Check via Instagram

Feed The Block San Jose (hosted by B.L.A.C.K. Outreach)

  • Financial support: Venmo (@blackoutreachsj)
  • Volunteer 
  • Physical donations accepted: N/A

Community Got Us (San Jose)

  • Financial support: Venmo (@communitygotus), CashApp ($communitygotus), Patreon
  • How to volunteer + donate: Check via Instagram