San Jose May Keep Overnight Warming Centers Open Every Night During Winter Months

As temperatures begin to drop, San Jose city officials are proposing that its overnight warming locations for the homeless remain open every night from Nov. 1 to April 30 instead of just during “periods of inclement weather.”

Since 2015, San Jose has declared a “shelter crisis” during the winter months as thousands of unhoused people sleep on the streets. Under a California state law, the declaration allows cities to utilize publicly-owned buildings as temporary shelter. And that’s exactly what San Jose has done.

Over the last three winters, 3,794 people have used the overnight warming locations—referred to as OWLs for short—during the more than 80 days the temporary shelters were open. But the city has seen a spike in its homeless population in recent years.

The 2019 homeless census counted 6,098 people experiencing homelessness, with 5,117 of them unsheltered. That’s a 40 percent increase from 2017. And with only 849 emergency shelter beds in San Jose, thousands are left in the cold every night.

Given the recent data, the San Jose City Council on Tuesday will consider opening two OWLs every night during the winter: one at the Bascom Community Center and Library and another at the Roosevelt Community Center. The two locations combined will shelter 60 people a night.

“Activating the OWL only during inclement weather was inconsistent and, more importantly, difficult for homeless persons to know when they were open,” Housing Director Jacky Morales-Ferrand, Library Director Jill Bourne, Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services Director Jon Cicirelli and Budget Director Jim Shannon wrote in a memo to the council. “It also posed operational challenges for the Public Library and Parks Recreation and Neighborhood Services staff to plan and prepare based on daily weather conditions.”

HomeFirst—a non-profit that provides homelessness services in Santa Clara County—already runs the OWLs and will continue to do so. Because of the increase in services, the contract’s compensation will jump from $350,000 to $1.5 and last through June 30. The money will come from a recent state grant called the Homeless Emergency Aid Program.

The OWLs will also be modified slightly, providing homeless individuals with showers at each site, a case manager during the day and storage containers to hold lost belongings for up to 30 days. Additional security will also be on site to bridge the gap between when the community centers close and when the OWLs open.

The OWLs will operate from 9pm to 8am and will be referral-based only this year to prevent long lines. Unhoused people can be referred for the program through HomeFirst outreach or an onsite case manager. The referral lasts for 60 days and can be renewed based on certain criteria.

In an Oct. 25 memo, Mayor Sam Liccardo and Councilwoman Dev Davis thanked residents for “working collaboratively” on the issue. A number of residents near the Bascom Community Center and Library formed a Community Advisory Committee (CAC) to provide feedback to the city.

“The purpose of the CAC is to be the vehicle for constant communication between the community, PRNS and Library employees, the Housing department, HomeFirst and the Council office,” Liccardo and Davis wrote. “The CAC will be a vital resource to ensure that there is a forum for the community and department representatives to raise comments and concerns for resolution.”

“We believe the CAC will help ensure the success of the OWL program, and that its methods can be replicated to future OWL programs throughout the City and other interim housing solutions,” the pair added.

The San Jose City Council meets at 1:30pm Tuesday inside the council chambers at City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St. in San Jose. Click here to read the entire agenda. 

Grace Hase is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @grace_hase.

13 Comments

  1. > San Jose May Keep Overnight Warming Centers Open Every Night During Winter Months

    Why not contract with the Mexican government to open warming centers in Baja California?

    It’s a warmer climate and would save on energy costs.

    Didn’t we just learn that PG&E has a hard time providing energy?

  2. These Owl sites are a much needed service and should be expanded. In district 7 the homeless population has doubled since the last Point in Time Count to over 1700+. Every community should bear the responsibility of housing homeless not just the downtown corridor. According to a news article about the 40% spike of homelessness in San Jose our Mayor reconfirms every neighborhood should participate,“This report calls for us collectively to end the reign of the NIMBY in Silicon Valley,” Liccardo said, referring to community opposition (Not In My BackYard) to housing and services for homeless individuals. “We all have a shared responsibility to address this crisis — every city, every neighborhood — and that means we must house homeless neighbors here and not the proverbial somewhere else.” District 7 is no different. A petition is circulating regarding this issue at: https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/re-open-tully-library-homeless-overnight-warming

    • > Every community should bear the responsibility of housing homeless not just the downtown corridor.

      Where did that “responsibility” come from? Do the homeless have any responsibilities? How about providing for their own housing? How did this get to be someone else’s responsibility? Aren’t they grown ups?

      If they’re not grown ups and not responsible, maybe they should be put in an orphanage and adopted.

      > “This report calls for us collectively to end the reign of the NIMBY in Silicon Valley,” Liccardo said.

      Oh, so we’re all “collectivists” now, Sam? No thank you. We’re Americans. You need to find a collectivist ant hill somewhere and offer to be THEIR mayor. Havana. Pyongyang. Berkeley.

  3. I’d like to volunteer city halls rotunda and parking garage and the atrium in the county administrative building. How about some TV stations while we are at it.

  4. As somebody on the Bascom CAC, we got off to a rocky start. People should also know that, unlike previous years, this is not a drop in site where those in need of shelter during storms or freezing weather can find refuge. The proposal is referral based occupancy that ensures people who sign up have a bed every night for 60 days.

    • We heard some of the residential concerns were folks arriving early at the bascom site. Lining up and loitering also. Any truth to that? And two, referral based is nice but if someone doesnt show up for their bed how will that vacancy be redistributed?

      • People showed up and lined up early or they just hung out. Some would leave after a couple hours because they didn’t want to stay inside. This overlapped service hours at the site.

        The referral means unless you are out for medical or other reasons, you have a fixed number of unexcused absences the go to the bottom of the waiting list. Waiting list will be established. For the first week they don’t expect to be at capacity so they will allow walk ins to sign up for the referral until they hit capacity. There will be no filling “empty” slots if somebody is late.

        • So just to be clear registered guests who dont show means any remaining empty beds wont be filled? So where can the community confirm the actual daily capacity to refer accordingly and help maintain 100% capacity so this site is a success?

  5. There will only be two OWL’s opening on Friday, Nov. 1 which is inhuman. Last year I asked for them to open the Tully Library for the folks living at Tully… they voted on Lenininger Center..and it was a disaster no homeless showing up.
    The main reason they aren’t opening Tully is the Councilwoman iMaya Esparza in that district, doesn’t want it opened, which doesn’t make any sense… maybe it’s for the votes, maybe it’s about getting re-elected.

    • > The main reason they aren’t opening Tully is the Councilwoman iMaya Esparza in that district, doesn’t want it opened, which doesn’t make any sense… maybe it’s for the votes, maybe it’s about getting re-elected.

      Stuff like this often happens in a democracy. Go figure.

  6. Let’s discuss something besides feel-good articles like this. It’s actually just a smoke screen.

    For example, how about an article on the Salary Setting Commission? Aren’t there any investigative reporters left?

    Why did the Commission (appointed by the Mayor, & the Council approved) shovel a new mountain of taxpayer money into the pockets of the Mayor and Councilcritters? Under the previous compensation package there were always plenty of candidates for San Jose’s elected positions, so attracting candidates isn’t a good reason.

    And Santa Clara’s similar Commission actually reduced that city’s total pay and benefits package for their electeds. Why didn’t San Jose’s Commission do likewise? Or at least, not hand the Mayor and Council another pay raise. For what?!

    There’s only one reason the SJ Commission gave them even more taxpayer loot.

    What do you think the (real) reason is?

    You get one (1) guess…

    (Yes, this is an IQ test. Anyone with a pulse should pass it).

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