San Jose expands services for homeless amid COVID-19


Faced with an uptick in homeless deaths amid the pandemic, city leaders expanded shelter services for San Jose’s unhoused residents.

On Jan 12, the San Jose City Council unanimously adopted a $11.3 million expenditure plan for its Homeless, Housing, Assistance and Prevention Program, which provides homeless outreach and shelter services citywide.

The budget approval allows the city to apply for $11.3 million in state grants to support a regional effort to end homelessness.

“These dollars are extremely important,” Councilmember Raul Peralez said. “The best thing we could be trying to do is continuing to create more shelter opportunities.”

The money will be used for operating affordable, interim, emergency, supportive housing sites and rapid re-housing sites for families and RV programs, according to Deputy Housing Director Ragan Henninger. The nonprofit LifeMoves, which helps survivors of domestic violence, will focus on handing out motel vouchers. The Bill Wilson Center will help house youth and Destination: Home will aid in homelessness prevention efforts.

“The homeless crisis, particularly as a result of the pandemic, has gone from bad to worse,” Vice Mayor Chappie Jones said in an interview, citing the recent death of unhoused resident Ruben Eldridge Hill reported by San José Spotlight.

The county drew criticism because it had just one overnight warming center open — miles away in Gilroy — the night Hill died in front of a vacant downtown San Jose office.

“This is a crisis,” Jones continued. “We need to come up with every tool in our toolbox to get our residents housed. It’s a moral imperative.”

According to the Santa Clara County’s coroner’s office, 196 homeless individuals died in Silicon Valley between Dec. 1, 2019, and Nov. 30, 2020 — an increase from last year’s death toll of of 161 people.

Assemblymember Ash Kalra pays his respects to the homeless people who have died. Nearly 200 unhoused individuals have died in Santa Clara County this year. Photo by Eugene Luu.

Lawmakers also approved grant agreements with nonprofits to keep two emergency shelters running.

Abode Services will receive a little more than a million dollars to operate the Sure Stay Hotel in San Jose as an emergency shelter. HomeFirst Services Santa Clara County will receive a $3.1 million contract to operate the South Hall shelter on Market Street.

The grants will allow South Hall to stay open through April 30 and allow the Sure Stay Hotel to provide supportive housing for people vulnerable to COVID-19 until shelter in place orders are lifted.

The Sure Stay Hotel, at 1488 N. First St. in San Jose, is currently housing homeless residents with medical conditions that make them more susceptible to COVID-19.

The hotel comprises 76 units and a community room. It was acquired by the city through state Project Homekey funds. The program is part of California’s effort to house homeless people during the pandemic.

South Hall has served 902 individuals from April 15, 2020 to Nov. 30, 2020. It has enough beds to serve 285 individuals per night.

Housing Director Jacky Morales-Ferrand said temporary shelters are a needed component of the city’s COVID-19 plan as the weather gets colder and the shelter in place order is extended.

A list of emergency shelters currently open in San Jose. Image from a memo by Deputy Housing Director Ragan Henninger.

Before the pandemic, there were 2,072 shelter beds countywide. That number has increased by 822 beds during the pandemic, Morales-Ferrand said.

Following the onslaught of COVID-19, the city opened several temporary emergency shelters, in addition to South Hall, but lawmakers were concerned about the need for longer-term affordable housing.

To meet the city’s affordable housing needs, many temporary sites created during the pandemic — including the Sure Stay Hotel — will transition to affordable housing and supportive services sites once the health order lifts.

The city has almost finished building two more emergency interim housing sites, on Evans Lane and Rue Ferrari, according to Henninger, to provide 228 beds and 40 beds, respectively. The spaces will also be converted to interim housing once the pandemic ends.

Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.



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