Can long- and short-term solutions keep pace with rising numbers?
San Jose’s homeless population has increased by 42 percent to 6,172, according to January’s homeless census, mandated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and taken every two years. For every individual placed into housing, three more enter into homelessness.
“The reasons for homelessness are many and varied,” said Joe Simitian, president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. “The high cost and shortage of housing are making a bad problem worse.”
The impact of the burgeoning homeless population is especially felt in the downtown area, where individuals squat, sleep unsheltered and often wind up when their encampments are shut down.
“We must double down on homelessness prevention and, in turn,
alleviate the human misery and greater public cost following an eviction notice,” said San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo.
Groundwerx, funded by Downtown property owners through the Property-Based Improvement District (PBID) wants to be a better partner in helping the homeless, said Chloe Verrey, operations manager.
“We feel we can be a bigger help,” Verrey said.
For five years, Groundwerx has partnered with Downtown Streets Team to place homeless individuals into a job-training program. The current staff at Groundwerx includes nine formerly homeless Downtown Streets Team alumni. In the past two years, 61 people volunteered for Groundwerx and moved into paid positions with other employers.
At San Jose Downtown Association’s April public meeting, businesses, residents and property owners received updates on efforts to mitigate homelessness from Councilmember Raul Peralez, City of San Jose Housing Director Jacky Morales-Ferrand and Consuelo Hernandez from the Santa Clara County Office of Supportive Housing.
“Homelessness is my number one priority,” said Peralez. “We have solutions for almost 100 percent of the homeless on the streets, but the problem is far from being solved.”
Voters approved $950 million in Measure A (November 2016) funding for affordable housing, of which $234 million has been invested in housing for homeless. The county has invested another $82 million, and the city has tapped $48 million in state supportive housing grants.
The Plaza Hotel was the first housing facility to open in the downtown core, offering shelter for 49 temporary residents at 96 S. Almaden Ave, operated by Abode Services.
Three permanent supportive housing developments are coming on line near downtown:
- Renascent Place, 2450 Senter Road, by Charities Housing, 162 apartments for up to 300 people, under construction;
- Second Street Studios (at Keyes), by Destination: Home, 134 units for the chronically homeless, just opened;
- Villas on the Park, 278 N. Second St (at Devine) by PATH, 83 units for 73 full-time and 10 interim residents, under construction.
“We need more of these units and we need to get them in the pipeline,” Peralez said.
Long-term, San Jose needs dollars (funding), dirt (places to build) and determination (community support), Morales-Ferrand said. “We need people to start saying ‘Yes’” to supportive housing in their neighborhoods and to new bond measures, Morales-Ferrand added. Downtown is doing its part, she added.
The next affordable housing projects downtown are at Balbach Street and Almaden Boulevard, 84 units, by Satellite Affordable Housing Associates, and San Pedro Studios, 135 units, by First Community Housing, but building has not yet begun at either location. In January, the City Council also committed to Roosevelt area and Page Street affordable housing developments outside of downtown.
While long-term solutions to create housing and prevent homelessness are critical to addressing homelessness, they take years to realize. In the meantime, short-term housing and services are necessary to address the immediate problem.
“Long-term housing takes a while,” said Morales-Ferrand. “We also have to address what’s happening today.”
Morales-Ferrand also prefers shifting some resources from long-term housing solutions to investing in homeless prevention funds.
“Keeping people in their homes is a lot less expensive than being homeless,” she said.
Some of the stop-gap measures suggested include:
Tiny homes: Two San Jose sites have been designated as locations for 40 one-room houses meant to bridge the gap between homelessness and permanent housing. Tiny homes are being constructed for Mabury Road near Coyote Creek and I-680 at Highway 101.
- Navigation centers: Navigation centers provide temporary housing and a safe solution for newly homeless or those who may be disrupted by an encampment closure. They serve those who need permanent housing but are fearful of accessing traditional shelter and services. They move people indoors. San Francisco has led the way nationally developing navigation centers, and recently approved its seventh center in the past four years.
- Safe parking centers: Roosevelt Community Center is the latest city-owned property in San Jose where homeless who live in their vehicles can park safely overnight. Safe parking areas are open from 7 p.m. to 10 a.m. and offer water restrooms and trash disposal. In San Jose, churches, libraries and community centers have offered safe parking since Liccardo allocated $3 million since March 2018 for various strategies to end homelessness.
- Overnight Warming Locations: OWLs give the homeless places to stay warm and dry when temperatures, rain and wind become inclement. Four city-owned sites can take up to 120 people – Alum Rock Library (families), Tully Library, Southside Senior Center and Roosevelt Community Center.
- Temporary & Incidental Shelter Program: Existing places of assembly can register with the Housing Department and offer temporary shelter on-site.
- Dignity on Wheels: A program of the nonprofit Project We Hope, Dignity on Wheels provides shower and laundry service to individuals experiencing homelessness at several locations per week.
“Solutions are right here in front of us – we just need to mobilize the collective will and resources,” said Jennifer Loving, CEO of Destination: Home and chair of the Santa Clara County Housing Authority. “Bottom line: homelessness is solvable.”