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Santa Clara County Approves North County Homeless Services


SAN JOSE - The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors today approved a plan that would provide up to $1.1 million in funding to make sure the homeless in the North County area have a warm, safe place to go on cold nights this winter. (Motion by Simitian, Approved 5-0) The funds are needed to help the County address a shortage of beds left by the closure of a long-time shelter facility earlier this year.

The North County area lost more than 125 emergency shelter beds in March, when the Sunnyvale Armory closed to make way for an affordable housing development. The Armory had provided 125 to 135 shelter spots every night during the four-month cold weather season for over 20 years.

The County has spent the past several months working with city and nonprofit partners to find a replacement for the Armory shelter, but regrettably, a tight real estate market has stymied efforts to date. Despite more than five months of searching, including a couple of near misses, County staff were unable to secure a large facility to serve as emergency cold weather shelter in the North County that would be ready to go by Thanksgiving.

In lieu of a single facility, the plan approved Tuesday directs staff to enter into a series of agreements with four non-profits serving the homeless, including: Downtown Streets Team, HomeFirst, InnVision Shelter Network and Project WeHOPE.

“Right now, time is our enemy,” said County Supervisor Joe Simitian, who represents the North County area where the shelter funding is primarily targeted. “The cold weather months will be on us shortly. Folks who used to find shelter at the Sunnyvale Armory will need somewhere else to go. Given the absence of a replacement shelter, County staff did the best they could to come up with a Plan B that will give folks options to get out of the cold."

The approved plan includes:

  • A motel voucher program for families with children and single adults,
  • Expanded shelter services at Project WeHOPE in East Palo Alto,
  • Expanded services at Hotel de Zink in Palo Alto,
  • Inclement weather outreach to the County’s homeless population, and
  • Expanded services at Commercial Street Inn and the Boccardo Reception Center in San Jose.

Some of these actions will require coordination with local nonprofits and city governments, but Simitian stressed the need for urgency. “Last year, we lost four lives in a week during an unexpected cold spell. That can’t be allowed to happen again.”

“In a region where affordable housing is scarce,” said Mila Zelkha, Director of Real Estate & Facilities for InnVision Shelter Network, “the Board’s approval of this plan helps to provide additional options for those among us who are in crisis.”

Simitian said he was particularly pleased that the County will begin to use motel vouchers for family housing in the community. “This has been a successful approach in other areas, and I think it opens up a whole new set of possibilities,” he said. “Finding suitable space for families has been a long-time challenge in Santa Clara County.”

In addition to the services approved for the North County, the Board of Supervisors approved a contract with HomeFirst to provide emergency cold weather shelter in both San Jose and Gilroy. In the past, the contract for operating the Sunnyvale Armory would have been part of that package, but due to the Armory’s being repurposed for affordable housing, it’s not part of the program this year.

The Board also included a provision for expanding other homelessness reduction and prevention programs using funds that had previously been appropriated to mitigate a funding crisis faced by the Housing Authority of the County of Santa Clara associated with the Federal Sequestration last fiscal year.

Simitian’s motion made a point of directing County staff to continue a search for a permanent shelter or shelters serving the North County and West Valley areas of the County.