With more than 4,600 people living on San Jose streets, riverbanks or in cars, San Jose officials could open up community centers, libraries and other public buildings as cold weather shelters.
The move, up for discussion at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, comes as California braces for heavy storms and possible flooding from El Niño, which could sicken or kill unsheltered residents. In 2013, four homeless people froze to death during a cold snap.
Past regional responses to life-threatening weather fronts have fallen short, leaving hundreds of people out in the cold. Silicon Valley, where housing costs are far beyond reach of the average worker, is home to the nation’s largest population of unsheltered homeless residents.
During the cold weather months, from late November through the end of March, Santa Clara County opens temporary shelters with a combined 250 beds in Sunnyvale, Gilroy and San Jose. When demand exceeds space, the shelters issue beds by lottery or first come, first served. Others work by referrals only.
A new shelter in Sunnyvale will only accept people brought by a social services agency. Once approved, the shelter allows them to stay through March 31, but evicts them if they don’t show up for a few consecutive nights.
“Even with the addition of these beds, however, there still remains a lack of viable local options for homeless populations in San Jose to seek refuge when major storm systems pass through the region,” Jacky Morales-Ferrand, San Jose’s director of Housing, wrote in a memo.
State law allows a city to declare a “shelter crisis,” which suspends certain housing standards to allow homeless people to sleep in public buildings and churches. To claim this emergency status, the city has to prove that a widespread lack of shelter threatens public health and safety. Los Angeles has issued “shelter crisis” declarations for years.
A January 2015 point-in-time homeless census counted more than 4,000 homeless people in San Jose. Of that number, about 70 percent were unsheltered. But according to the latest inventory, the city has only 1,566 homeless beds—far too little to accommodate all the people who live on the streets, under overpasses and in the creeks.
Should it declare a crisis, San Jose would open Bascom and Tully community centers, Washington United Youth Center and the Bibliotheca Branch Library as overnight shelters.
The facilities are geographically dispersed throughout the city and close to known concentrations of homeless populations. They would open their doors to the homeless on nights when rain, wind and cold become dangerously inclement.
“Their paramount purpose is the prevention of death and injury related to exposure to the elements,” Morales-Ferrand said.
In past years, nonprofits have offered overnight warming centers, but there has been no system in place to activate shelters throughout the city. San Jose shelled out $430,000 to have HomeFirst to run the city’s shelter program. The housing nonprofit has operated mass shelter services for the county in the past.
That $430,000 will pay for staffing, shelter, food, security and cleaning for up to 100 people a night for 30 days of severe weather. Unlike the county’s cold weather program, which runs on a fixed schedule, the city's program will only activate during National Weather Service alerts for flash flooding or near-freezing and rain-soaked nights.
City officials will also appeal to local churches to open their doors as temporary shelters. City code allows religious facilities to serve as warming centers with the right permits. Because those permits can take several weeks to obtain, the city will consider waiving that requirement.
Outreach workers have been spreading word to homeless residents about how to stay safe once the weather gets rough. On nights when the cold weather shelters are open, outreach staff will offer transport and work with police and paramedics to keep homeless people safe.
The county has been developing a concurrent regional cold weather plan, one that identifies more shelter space and notifies homeless people on how to find them.
More from the San Jose City Council agenda for December 8, 2015:
- A man who broke his spine when his bicycle tire got caught in a storm drain has reached a $150,000 settlement with the city. Joseph Longtin was riding his bike down Monterey Road two years ago when his front tire hit a storm grate, hurtling him over the handlebars and fracturing his spine. After two surgeries, Longtin filed a lawsuit for ongoing medical expenses and $126,000 in lost wages, property damages, pain and suffering. Here’s a copy of the agreement.
- In another settlement, the city will pay $70,000 to a woman who hurt her head when an oak tree fell on her at Frank Bramhall Park. Here’s a link to that settlement agreement.
- The next city elections will take place June 7, when voters will elect council members to districts 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10. Current council members for those respective districts are Ash Kalra, Manh Nguyen, Pierluigi Oliverio, Rose Herrera and Johnny Khamis. Kalra, Oliverio and Herrera term out at the end of next year.
- City officials will adopt a resolution to “take a stand” against human trafficking. While acknowledging that no data links the Super Bowl to increased trafficking, the city says the sporting event presents an opportunity to educate the broader community about this type of crime.
- San Jose will update its massage parlor ordinance to, among other changes, prohibit sexually suggestive advertising and require owners to obtain a permit from police.
- Splash, one of San Jose’s few gay bars, has re-applied for its permit to serve booze until 2am.
- Wage theft tops the council’s priority list, followed by renter rights, a local hiring initiative and cracking down on massage parlors.
WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260