San Jose’s ‘Shelter Crisis’ Policy for Homeless Makes an Impact

San Jose made a bold move in December to help the city’s homeless population by implementing, for the very first time, a “shelter crisis” policy. This allows for the suspension of certain health, safety and building code provisions in order to use publicly owned buildings as temporary warming shelters during extreme weather.

The decision was prompted primarily by El Niño’s threat of heavy storms and potential floods along San Jose’s river’s and creeks, where homeless encampments tend to congregate. It also comes as part of a broader initiative to provide greater support to area homeless that has been gathering steam for some time.

San Jose is home to one of the nation’s largest concentrations of homeless residents, with the problem making national headlines in 2014 during the shut down of “The Jungle,” the city's largest and oldest homeless encampment. Since then, the city has moved forward on several programs geared towards reducing homelessness, including the exploration of more radical solutions, like sanctioned homeless encampments.

But these measures all take time to implement, and more urgent action was required.

“We've always had in our emergency operation plan this concept of warming centers,” Ray Bramson, San Jose's homelessness response manager, told me in a recent interview. “But it was never a deliberate design to try and help ... get [people] in at the worst possible times. So, [with] these shelters, we tried to set a lower bar.”

Plans were drafted up and the program, managed by local nonprofit agency HomeFirst, went live shortly thereafter. According to Bramson, things have been going well so far. “We are funded in total to provide 30 nights. To date, we’ve provided eight nights of shelter, and served 96 participants.’’

The temporary warming shelters—located at the Bascom and Tully community centers, the Washington United Youth Center and the Biblioteca Latinoamericana Branch Library—are activated based upon National Weather Services alerts for extreme cold or rain, with updates communicated to local homeless populations primarily through direct outreach by groups like HomeFirst.

“We have a strong indication of where to find people during inclement weather and inform them of the local shelters available,” said Rene Ramirez, director of services for HomeFirst, in an email. “We typically receive two to three days notice of an upcoming inclement weather episode, or extension of a called episode. We are able to activate our teams promptly … to set up each one of the sites within an hour.”

HomeFirst operates a telephone hotline for shelter alerts, but, so far, word of mouth has been the most effective means of communication.

“The objective is to connect them with resources that they might not otherwise receive because of their reluctance to visit shelters,” Ramirez said. “Face-to-face opportunities are always the best method to inform our community.”

Warming centers’ primary purpose is to provide refuge from inclement weather, but other amenities are provided. “We provide a mat and blankets, hot and cold beverages, and snack-type food,” Wagner said. HomeFirst, Bramson added, is also “able to connect particularly vulnerable clients with additional support, if requested.”

The city has waived certain restrictions on religious facilities, allowing them to operate as warming centers as well. Seven local churches have opened their doors to the homeless so far, expanding the reach of the program considerably. “Under the current ordinance, [religious facilities] are able to provide 35 days of shelter for 15 people per night,” Bramson said.

Religious facilities are not bound by the city’s National Weather Service alerts, allowing them to budget their time based upon other church operations. “Most participating churches have opted for continued operation over a sustained period with a planned rotation to other sites,” Bramson said, “essentially providing some level of coverage throughout the winter period.”

The shelter crisis declaration ends in June, so there are still plenty of opportunities for homeless people to take advantage of temporary warming shelters as the need arises. For more information, including ways you can help support the program, please visit the HomeFirst website at www.homefirst.org.

Randle Aubrey is a lifelong Bay Area resident and the proprietor of the political commentary blog SOAPBOX, as well as a co-host on Face For Radio, a weekly pop culture podcast. You can find SOAPBOX at www.getuponit.org, and Face For Radio at www.echoplexmedia.com.

30 Comments

  1. The only tangible impact is on taxpayer wallets. At $143 / night ($430,000 program pays for 100 cots for 30 nights), twin beds at the Fairmont would be cheaper. No behavior change is required.The program encourages homelessness, not “Ending Homelessness” as claimed.

    Important to remember that Homefirst was previously known as The Emergency Housing Consortium. EHC rebranded after organization was looted by founder Barry Del Bono. Most recently, a “homeless” 18 year old was featured to promote Homefirst’s youth services. He was sent to San Jose by San Benito County as they lack youth services. No reimbursement – it’s the equivalent of patient dumping and encouraged by HomeFirst.

    Unlike groups such as Catholic Charities and Salvation Army, HomeFirst’s IRS reports indicate most (65%) of their government funding goes to salaries. In effect, HomeFirst exists to benefit employees.

    Little prospect of any positive impact until officials are held accountable for results – not just doling out public funds.

    • The problem with this perspective is that those salaries are a necessary part of administering any program. The organizations you mention are far larger than HomeFirst, which allows economies of scale not possible for smaller organizations. In the most expensive housing market in the country, salaries must be high enough for staff to afford housing. That doesn’t mean the organization “exists to benefit employees,” it means the organization compensates employees adequately, which is a requirement for sustainability.

      We wouldn’t need government funding for programs like this if our government allocated adequate funding to address homelessness and work to find solutions. For some reason, short-sighted people object so strongly to contributing to our communities through taxes that we need community based organizations like HomeFirst to do the job instead. That attitude is nothing more than a form of civic freeloading.

      • 1. The City of San Jose’s website lists the median *household* annual income as $80,090 based on the Census Bureau’s American Family Survey. HomeFirst’s published top salaries are substantially higher. Additionally, they exceed compensation for comparable job functions using job value analytics such as those from Hay & Associates.

        Charging $143 / cot / night is over twice the cost of moderately priced motel rooms in San Jose. Vouchers would have been much more cost effective (about 1/4th the cost / bed at advertised rates). But a voucher system would not subsidize 6 figure staff salaries.

        2. HomeFirst, by traditional accounting standards, is not sustainable. The organization relies on government largesse , not investments, rents, annuities, or other sustainable income.

        3. Salaries consume about 65% of government funding per HomeFirst IRS financial statements. By contrast labor-intensive service industries such as public education are substantially less.

        4. Like healthcare, we spend substantially more public money on homelessness than other countries. But we don’t spent it wisely. Despite drastic homeless funding increases (e.g, LA just allocated $100 million, SF spends more than departments such as Public Works, Parks, and Children Services – combined), there’s been scant impact.

        On Feb 5, the Chronicle reported SF spends $241 million on homeless, “but can’t track results”. The headline could just as easily apply to San Jose or Santa Clara County.

        5. We have had “community based” charitable organizations for over a century in San Jose with no public subsidies. The advent of “benefit from misery” organizations has failed to move the needle. Instead, we get recycled “10 Year Plan To End Homelessness” promises and no tangible improvement. After repeatedly failing to achieve tangible results, another plan is issued. The latest is now a “5 Year Plan To End Homelessness”.

        6. HomeFirst relies on public funds. The claim of increased taxes needed “to do the job” is laughable.

        • > The advent of “benefit from misery” organizations has failed to move the needle. Instead, we get recycled “10 Year Plan To End Homelessness” promises and no tangible improvement. After repeatedly failing to achieve tangible results, another plan is issued. The latest is now a “5 Year Plan To End Homelessness”.

          Fifty years ago Lyndon Johnson declared “War on Poverty” and opened the taxpayer funded government spigot to drown “poverty” with TRILLIONS of dollars of cash.

          Poverty won.

          And future generations are crushed into poverty under trillions of dollars of public debt.

    • There’s a lot of money to be made by the parasites who purport to work to end homelessness and hunger. All these organizations and people are employed to end homelessness, yet it never happens. Of course not, because if they actually ended homelessness, those parasites would be unemployed. So, it goes on and on as grant writers coax millions of dollars from sympathetic but misguided, clueless, and easily conned local, state, and federal officials. After all, the tax dollars they allocate to this endless and useless endeavor are not really their own money. Every dollar diverted to these worthless endeavors is a dollar diverted from public safety, infrastructure maintenance, and other legitimate government endeavors. As for alleged hunger in the most obese nation in the history of the world, the head of just the Santa Clara and San Mateo Second Harvest Food Bank rakes in a quarter of a million dollars in salary annually. Multiply that by food banks throughout the nation and it’s clear there is a lot of money to be made by the opportunistic parasites of the hunger business. I am sure there are people in both the homelessness and hunger businesses who are honestly trying to do good. But the majority of them, and virtually all the executive directors of these tax-thieving organizations, are just opportunistic parasites, earning their living at taxpayer funded worthless, unproductive, and enabling organizations.

  2. In defiance of all reason and compassion, the perspective of people like Taxpayer…sadly has actually intensified as our economy generates more and more of our sisters and brothers into poverty and the streets.

    The facts show that over 55% of all adult homeless men are veterans, and according to Wounded Warrior an average night finds an estimated 50,000 of them are bedding down on streets and in charity sanctuaries like Homefirst. About 6 in 100 of them are back from Iraq and Afghanistan. And the problem of homelessness for Vietnam veterans is, just shameful, and well known.

    In my opinion there is there anything more shameful than sending our brothers and sisters to war and not taking care of them when they come back!

      • Interesting, if not depressing to look at everything like its President Obama’s fault..

        • Ross:

          You illustrate perfectly what Rush Limbaugh calls “the Limbaugh Theorem”.

          It states that Obama believes that he is not in charge of the government and that nothing is his fault. The corollary is that Obama is engaging in a permanent election campaign explaining how wonderful things are going to be once he defeats all opposition and gets total power.

      • Um… Maybe I’m mistaken, but wouldn’t that be the Veteran’s Administration?

    • Ross,
      The most recent Santa Clara County Homeless Point-In-Time Census & Survey count tallied our veteran homeless population at 10.4% of all homeless – nowhere near the 55% you claim.

      About 1/3 are “sheltered”. The report claims a 33% nationwide homeless veteran reduction versus a negligible 2% reduction in SCC over the same period. Some (e.g. Salt Lake City) claim they have eliminated veteran homelessness.

      Agree that our treatment of veterans is shameful. If cities like SLC can, why can’t we? Particularly since the VA has allocated funding for this. AFAIK, neither SCC nor San Jose have not availed itself of these resources. One approach would be to redirect all SCC and city homeless programs to vets until we can declare victory as SLC claims.

      Also important to note the VA reports 22 vets per month commit suicide.

      Enabling self-destructive behaviors via ‘no strings attached’ charity is counter to virtually all successful behavior modification approaches. Unless behaviors change, then the homeless will remain so. You may choose to castigate the “tough love” approach used by Salvation Army and others as irrational and heartless, but we haven’t found other means that match its success.

  3. Fyu: this is from the 2015 point in time report from about how we doing on this in Santa Clara County. Which you can find via Google in a matter of seconds.

    The 2015 Point-in-Time count found that there were 703 homeless veterans in Santa Clara
    County at a point in time in January 2015, with 500 in the City of San Jose. Despite local efforts
    to house homeless veterans, this is only a very slight decrease from the 718 veterans that were
    counted in 2013. However, the count does show a decrease in unsheltered veterans. In 2013,
    just 19% of counted veterans were staying in shelters, while in 2015 37% of veterans were
    sheltered. This is due in part to the opening of the Veterans Housing Facility in San Jose in 2013.
    Previously, this facility which provides shelter and transitional housing to 125 veterans was
    located on the grounds of the VA Palo Alto Health Care System in Menlo Park. Additionally, four
    Santa Clara County non-profit agencies were recently awarded VA funding for Homeless Veteran
    Families, with over 6 million dollars in funding over the next 3 years to further assist the
    community in ending homelessness for veterans.
    How many people are chronically homeless?
    The 2015 Point-in-Time count estimates that there are 2,207 chronically homeles

  4. Ross,
    Glad you’ve discovered sources other than Wounded Warrior’s self-serving 55% figure in support of their CEO’s $375,000 / year (in 2013) salary and millions on fundraising. Despite numerous critical reports, WW does get 3 out of 4 stars on Charity Navigator – higher than many.

    SCC’s homeless vet population is about 2 points (10% v. 8%) higher than the national average for homeless vets (sources: National Alliance to End Homelessness & SCC PIT Survey)). Salt Lake City, New Orleans, Phoenix, and Houston claim to have ended vet homeliness in the past 12-36 months. While there’s been improvement, our results are woefully deficient compared to others.

    The most cost effective approach (see Gladwell’s “Million Dollar Murray” and related research on homeless costs) provides permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless. The savings from hospitalization, EMS, and justice / jail would more than offset funding permanent supportive housing according to homeless advocates. $143 / night cots sap funds and focus from programs that do make a tangible impact.

    We could provide more cost-effective care and greater net savings by out-sourcing to low cost areas like Nevada. Lower cost to taxpayers coupled with compassionate care for SCC’s chronically homeless vets seems like a win-win.

    • Worth noting, Taxpayer thinks Wounded Warriors are just another self serving organization: that dowant meet his standard..Wow.

      • Per CBS and New York Times investigations, WW http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/28/us/wounded-warrior-project-spends-lavishly-on-itself-ex-employees-say.html?_r=0 , has come under intense criticism. Publicizing bogus, self-serving statistics for those lacking critical thinking skills is commonplace among sketchy advocacy groups. Remember the “Most are just one paycheck away from homelessness” ad campaign? Later discredited, but the legend sticks.

        To the best of my knowledge, WW is a private charity and accountable to donors – not feeding at the public trough. Despite excesses, WW gets 3 stars on Charity Navigator.

        What fails to meet reasonable expectations is that local publically-funded efforts should be better than comparable entities. National figures indicate a 33% reduction in vet homelessness v. a scant reduction (and within bounds of measurement error) for SCC. Five cities (including Las Cruces, NM) claim they have eliminated it. Why haven’t we?

        Using a traditional private industry evaluation approach, many publicly funded homeless organizations would loose their contracts for failing to achieve results. Public schools get new management for below par performance as do cities that declare bankruptcy such as Detroit, Stockton, and San Bernardino.

        The absence of transparency and accountability at many public funded homeless agencies helps them dodge consequences. Despite serving vulnerable populations with food and shelter, none comply with CA’s Community Care Licensing Act – to further escape oversight.

        Ultimately, elected officials are responsible for perpetuating mismanagement.

  5. Sly Con Valley is, and has been historically, a cesspool of Fascist Corporate/Governing misery ….

    for just one example, who would not be mentally disabled … if they could not afford their rent, despite working over forty hours a week and ended up sleeping on cement?

    Yet, we are still hearing this conversation that it is the other way around? Those anointed to head up the Homelessness Non Profits (the only one’s making 6 and 7 figure salaries there) are still insisting that it is failure to buck up to the insidious, sociopathic musical chairs game they made their fortune off of).

    • > if they could not afford their rent, despite working over forty hours a week and ended up sleeping on cement?

      Diane:

      Listen to me!

      The housing in Silicon Valley IS AFFORDABLE BY SOMEONE!

      VIrtually ALL of the available housing in Silicon Valley IS OCCUPIED by people who are PAYING RENT!

      The people you are referring to who “could not afford their rent” CHOOSE not to live in a place where they COULD AFFORD THE RENT.

      I could not afford the rent in Newport Beach, Sea Cliff, Tiburon, Aptos, Beverley Hills, etc. etc. etc. So I CHOOSE not to live in those places. The result is: I CHOOSE TO HAVE affordable housing in a place where I can afford to live.

      STOP IT!

      Stop making the STUPID argument that PEOPLE CAN’T afford housing. They CAN afford housing. They just want someone else to subsidize a nicer place for them.

  6. woah, sjoutsidethebubble, take a breath ….. otherwise, …. you’ll end up laying next to sca_ _ _.

    you’re working yourself up into a high froth that someone dared note the obvious fact that Silicon Valley has (for quite a while now, decades) been ultimately unaffordable to anyone outside of a ‘snake’ to make a permanent home in.

    • DIANE:

      The fact that YOU and your co-tribalists cannot afford to live in Silicon Valley is YOUR problem, NOT Silicon Valley’s problem. Many other people CAN afford to live here.

      Just create some wealth and you.ll be fine.

  7. Funny how far away from the topic these comments have strayed. Affordability of housing is largely related to two things: balance between supply and demand of housing stock, and income equality. Thoughtful planning is vital for the first, and I’m not sure our planning has been optimal. We’re certainly better off than some jurisdictions, though.

    Saying people aren’t choosing to live in affordable areas neglects the unsustainably low minimum wage, which is too low to rent a two bedroom apartment anywhere in the nation; and it neglects the realities of the job market. Frankly, I think it’s mean-spirited viewpoints about people who are struggling that caused and perpetuates the problem. Complaining about the salaries of non-profit staffers is much more palatable than considering the structural disadvantages that perpetuate the societal tragedies they seek to remedy.

    • ” [minimum wage] “too low to rent a two bedroom apartment anywhere in the nation”. ” Huh?

      In a few minutes, I found many. Zillow shows a nice one for $640 / month in West Virginia. Plenty more elsewhere.

      Interesting mindset to assert that minimum wage should make two-bedroom housing affordable (e.g., < 33% of salary) in one of the most expensive housing markets in the US. LA might be an option. The LA Times asserts 25% of LA residents are receiving public assistance.

      Of course working two jobs, supporting myself, and putting myself through college (scholarships helped) is evidently not an option for today's minimum wage earners. Not uncommon – similar trajectory for many immigrants with far fewer advantages that I had.

  8. But you know…if we took care of our poor sisters and brothers…that would mean we have to admit that it could possibly happen to us too. Or something. sigh.

  9. Mr Taxpayer and Mr SJOutsidethebubble you guys a batting a thousand on this one!

    I’m looking for less expensive place to be, ASAP.

  10. > temporary

    BWAAAHAAAAHAAAAA!

    You suckers!

    My late, sainted mother used to tell us as children: “There is nothing more permanent than a temporary tax.”

    I’ve learned over the years that she was right.

  11. “unsustainably low minimum wage, which is too low to rent a two bedroom apartment anywhere in the nation” — EMILIE

    If the above constitutes a legitimate argument then I have to ask, why was it not made back when I and tens of thousands of other local teens held the majority of minimum wage jobs? Generation after generation of young people, most of them students, worked these minimum wage jobs with nary a single do-gooder from the government or community raising the issue of their lack of buying power. So what is so different today? Are the jobs tougher? Have floors become harder to clean? Has burger-flipping become more complex? Does today’s minimum wage worker produce more profit for his/her employer?

    Unless the answer to these questions is yes, which it surely is not, then it seems we have no choice but to attribute the reason for this sudden interest in the minimum wage to politics, plain and simple. Progressives worked to flood this nation with illegal aliens so unskilled and so marginally intelligent that the permanent displacement of teen workers was guaranteed, then immediately set to work to sell to the public the idea that these people are paid less than they’re worth. But they’re not. What they’re worth can be determined by identifying the wage necessary for the employer to secure the required number of suitable workers. If only ten in one hundred workers will dig ditches for $10 an hour, and an employer needs ten or fewer workers, then the wage is set, no matter what the ninety left unemployed might think. This I learned as a teenage worker: join the others up on the flatbed or just say no and take your chance on the offer improving.

    This area has an oversupply of workers with entry-level skills, largely attributable to lousy parents and loose borders. These people are out of place. They can’t afford to be here and we can’t afford to have them here. Where they would be better off I can’t say off the top, but one clue is that it will not be someplace home to high rents and hundreds of thousands of highly-trained tech workers.

  12. Perhaps someone in the SJI community with a big brain, an opposable thumb, and a law degree could address the following question.

    Q. If the City of San Jose uses public funds to provide housing for the homeless, does that mean that the City is asserting that housing for the homeless is a “public purpose”?

    If housing for the homeless is a “public purpose”, does that mean that the City could use eminent domain (see Kelo decision) to take existing housing from private owners and use it to house the homeless?

    Sounds to me like the the City could “solve” the homeless problem if it wanted to.

    • CSJ could have started recovering the $145M squandered each year as presented by a taxpayers group more than two years ago. Recommendations were made to Chuck Reed and Sam Liccardo after vetting through city staff for accuracy and feasibility. All of the savings could be achieved in the first year – not a lengthy payback period.

      Examples include elimination of funding Santa Clara County school crossing guards and reinstating the employee suggestion award program that worked so well in the past. Or those the City Auditor has made – some more than 11 years ago. Since then, numerous below market leases and additional savings opportunities have surfaced.

      But rather than acting, Sam is promoting a sales tax increase. Doesn’t seem likely to address critical infrastructure problems like our crumbling roads, nor our vastly understaffed police department.

  13. Homeless services should be provided by true non-profits and religious organizations… no government money included.

    Many of the current non-profits are actually pseudo government agencies because the majority of funding is from taxpayers.

    San Jose needs to focus on core services, an area where Sham Lie-car-doh is losing on every single front. Yet, hobos are getting the attention.