As waiting lists at Santa Clara County homeless shelters grow longer, San Jose lawmakers this week approved funding for a new motel voucher program that would act as additional emergency shelter space.
The vouchers are geared toward families and survivors of domestic violence and will be funded through a state grant called the Homeless Emergency Aid Program.
The City Council on Tuesday unanimously to award a $1.95 million contract with the nonprofit LifeMoves to get the program off the ground. The agreement is slated to run through December 2020.
LifeMoves already operates a similar voucher program in San Mateo County and will help families find housing and other services such as food, healthcare and childcare.
“This is just a Band-Aid, we’re all aware,” Mayor Sam Liccardo told San Jose Inside. “But we critically need more Band-Aids right now because I think as we all see the patient is hemorrhaging. We’re going to use this tool along with transitional housing and permanent housing to get more folks off the street.”
The San Mateo County voucher program provides families with minor children motel rooms for up to 15 days, on average. In 2018-19, some 91 percent of the neighboring county’s program participants left for emergency shelters or transitional housing. And 7 percent of them found a long-term place to live.
Here in San Jose, housing officials expect that its version of the program will grant 60 families motels stays for an average of 90 days.
“The Motel Voucher Program will ensure households are kept together in safe and temporary housing, until a more permanent housing solution is identified,” Housing Director Jacky Morales-Ferrand said. “While families with minor children and victims of domestic violence are the target households served with this program, other vulnerable households may be served, for example a senior with medical condition, but would be evaluated for participation on a case by case basis.”
Councilwoman Magdalena Carrasco expressed some worry Tuesday about the security of the program since it will serve survivors of domestic violence. “I’m concerned that it’s not just their information being guarded, but best practices are put in place when these vouchers are handed out,” she said. “It’s not as simple as checking into a motel.”
Councilwoman Sylvia Arenas voiced similar concerns and wanted to know how LifeMoves would pick the motels they partner with.
“I’d like for us to consider the safety and the proximity of the schools,” she said. “On the East Side there really isn’t much choice. I hope that there is going to be a couple more options for our families.”
Ragan Henninger, the San Jose housing department’s deputy director, said that LifeMoves was currently searching for “as many partners as they can in the fold.” However, the nonprofit had yet to determine which motels or hotels it would use.
LifeMoves won the bid after the San Jose Housing Department put out a request for proposals and nobody responded. Housing officials opted to reward the contract to LifeMoves based on their prior experience, something Morales-Ferrand said is consistent with a city procurement rule that allows for “sole sourcing of services” if the bid elicits no other viable contenders—or any at all.
While city officials prioritize permanent housing construction as the most effective way to end homelessness, Morales-Ferrand said that short-term solutions—like emergency shelters—“play a critical role.” But these shelters are often at capacity, leaving too many famlies without a sanctioned place to sleep at night. In 2018 to 2019, the YWCA of Silicon Valley fielded 762 requests for shelter that they were unable to meet with its 16 beds.
“Motel vouchers add capacity to the homeless shelter system when emergency shelters are full,” Morales-Ferrand said.