San Jose Might Declare ‘Shelter Crisis’ to Protect Homeless

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.
  • 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.

WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. I’ve been pitching this for years, the old city hall should be transformed into a homeless shelter and satellite office for VMC’s mental health. You have everything right there, cops, jail, bus access, close to downtown.

    This would fix Saint James Park. Homeless folks choose to live closest to their most abundant resource. Hopefully this new muni code would allow it.

        • How about the the scoflaw marijuana collectives pay their taxes ….like they said they would during the campaign that got them open in the beginning… ohhhhhhh how wonderful and beneficial the clubs imagined themselves to be …. solving all San Jose’s financial woes…

          Now even “Mayor Reed” is on the collectives payroll. (He was all along but just didn’t advertise)…

          • If this city could get out of its own way , The collectives could have generated more than enough funds to help take care of the homeless and other city programs. Colorado profited $60 million dollars in one month alone , and will even begin returning funds to its tax payers

    • Seems reasonable on the surface, but past experience shows it won’t make a difference. CityTeam’s relocation was promised to reclaim the park – instead the problem has grown worse.

      Five items might help: 1. cite campers and seize camping supplies of repeat offenders, 2. confiscate stolen shopping carts, 3. cite public feeders, 4. provide food in managed facilities (e.g., Martha’s Kitchen) 7 days a week, priority to Downtown Streets workers. Otherwise we’re enabling homelessness. While not a silver bullet, tough love works better than other strategies.

      District 3 already has an excessive concentration of homeless service agencies. Per SJ policy, these are supposed to be equally distributed.

      • > Per SJ policy, these are supposed to be equally distributed.

        So, if my district has below average number of homeless, the city is supposed to create more “homeless service agencies” in my district to attract the homeless?

        This sounds to me like a dumb idea. Who thought of this?

        • Don’t recall when the policy was adopted, but believe it was during Hammer’s administration. The City frequently deviates from its policies (and General Plan). The policy is a tacit admission that homeless concentrations lower property values and quality of life for those nearby. The idea is to spread the grief and to avoid CEQA suits.

    • RMC (1) There arent enough police to serve those with homes… (2) “old” City Hall is now a county owned building that Chuck Reed (that real estate / business genius) used to help create his failed “fiscal emergency” by actually paying the county to take possession/ownership (3) because it was poorly maintained and had many major problems like asbestos, mold and rot…
      I can envision a scenario where the City houses homeless there who then claim some health disorder that some quack and his attorney attribute to the City’s charity … question is what will happen first? homeless succumbs to mold poisoning? Cit settles a suit and pays out? …or Jen and Josh tell me about Good Samaritan Laws…

      LA is a wonderful place year round … besides they have all our Water.

        • Perhaps but i”ll keep pointing out (until I get a reasonable solution) is it reasonable for any entity to open itself up to any liability for mold or asbestos poisoning or any other real or imagined liability? Old City Hall is publically owned so we the taxpayers would have to foot the bill.

          Here is some reality from the front lines… I can’t begin to tell you the number of wasted man-hours spent on some of these bums by SJPD and SJFD when the weat her is not conducive to camping.

          Sorry but “bums” is appropriate … so is “grifter”.

          Sob sisters might call these people “un fortunates” or chronically homeless. I’ll stick with “bums”

          These bums call and say “I’m cold, I want shelter… if I can’t get shelter I’m going to kill myself…”

          Thsee bums have learned how to play the game to get what they want… a short term solution to a gross personality disorder that has been fed and nurtured into a very expensive monster.

          There is no pressing medical problem . There is no real chance of suicide… just looking for a warm bed and free meal.

          PD will call any and all of the more than ample shelters… all will say “sure we have plenty of beds available.”

          The follow up question from the shelter is, ” what is the persons name (seeking shelter)?

          Once an officer gives the party’s name the response is , “sorry, Bum XYZ is not welcome here.” Usually because Bum XYZ just does not get along with anyone…

          If Bum XYZ is persona non grata at one shelter it is a safe bet that he/she is not welcome at any shelter and a few phone calls easily confirm this.

          Even charities have limits on goodwill and rules that must be observed for the comfort and safety of all their clients.

          So what do we do with these problem children when shelter experts cannot get through to them ?

          • Meyer Weed: Thank you for the harsh, but accurate dose of reality. Wish my experience differs, but it doesn’t. Adding to the problem is that our homeless data base system, unlike others, doesn’t require profile entry. Triage and statistics to better understand the problem is thus thwarted. “What gets measured, gets done” (David Packard).

            Our officials shun reasonable management practices.

          • Meyer Weed, thanks for accurately depicting my own experiences during my tenure as an officer as well. Everything you describe is spot-on accurate.

            It’s also worth noting that most of these bums – as you so accurately name them – are there for reasons of their own making: alcohol abuse and substance abuse, primarily. And there’s nothing about the currently proposed housing solutions that are going to change the facts that these folks are addicts who have no desire to be anything other than addicts.

            Yes. A lot of them are mentally ill. Some of them were even mentally ill before they became addicts. But many others became mentally ill BECAUSE of their substance abuse, and because the pathologies of those kinds of mental illness are so different from organically-caused mental illness, treating them like you would a normal schizophrenic or bipolar is impossible.

  2. HomeFirst costs $143 per hobo, per night… More than a upper-class double occupancy hotel room. Why spend so much on folks who do not contribute a dime to our community?

    These are the 0.004% of our City whose health services/housing/criminality (statistically due to addiction) keep them chronically unemployed and homeless.

    Stop enabling them! Don’t feed the pigeons… I’m talking to both City leaders and those of you who hand out cash at intersections.

    • Yep. If you want pigeons everywhere, throw out peanuts. And if you want perfectly able-bodied layabouts begging on busy intersections, throw out spare change. Or worse, a dollar.

      I propose honking whenever someone sees an idiot giving free money to these sign-carrying beggars. For every one of them there are a hundred others who don’t beg — and they all get the same free taxpayer loot. Streetcorners are just gravy for these pests.

      So, honk your horn at the enabling chumps when they throw out even more unearned cash. Maybe with enough honking they’ll get the message.

      • I saw something pretty ridiculous today Smokey.

        I’m at Monterrey and Alma, at the light next to the new walmart when I see one guy towing what looked like a one legged guy on a push scooter.

        Guy on the bike goes, “I can’t get you up the hill, you need to help!

        Amazingly, a 3rd appendage appears from under the posterior of the guy on the push scooter! Turns out the “Amputated leg” was just stuffed, and his real leg came out of a hole cut in the right rear pocket. He just sat on his real leg, and let the stuff one sit out.

        It made me think about the movie “Trading Places” where Eddie Murphy was pretending to be a legless vietnam vet. I thought how there was a time people would have seen this guys behavior, and demanded he pay a debt to society. (This was how Eddie ended up in jail) These days the guy on the scooter would have been deemed, “Mentally ill” and probably would have been given a medal.

        Not sure if I like today’s way.

  3. 50 years ago Detroit was the “Silicon Valley of America” with 2 million people. They turned it into a “Socialist Mecca”. Free stuff for all ! To day you can buy a house for under $2000 dollars. Of course the taxes are about the same.

    The socialist experiment being a great success, I suggest you buy all these homeless people, here house in Detroit.
    Pay the taxes for one year, and a one way ticket to ride! Maybe we can get the Detroit population up to 750,000

    Socialism really does works if you just get the working class people to give you all their money!

  4. “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.” Wait, what do you mean by “residents”?

    How many of these folks have ever held a job in Santa Clara County?!?

    We all know the reason why we have the “nation’s largest population of unsheltered homeless” is we’re not North Dakota and the vast majority of the alleged 4,600 are not even from California let alone San Jose.

    I’m all for helping the ones in need but when do we get to see the actual (or any) stats on these 4,600 folks???

    • When will we get the info? NEVER… What can we be assured of ? A sob-sister piece about how the homeless distrust the “homeless census project workers”‘ (who flood the night in search of the elusive home-li every few years) and refuse to provide info or hide or whatever…

      Have you seen the latest “jungle” at 87 & 280? Some pretty nice cars and trucks in that camp.

  5. > 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.

    How many of these 4,600 people should be living in the institutions that were shut down by Pat Brown?

  6. Did I miss its inclusion in the list of buildings about to be funked up and fouled, or was the Hammer Theatre not included in the list?

    • James Reber’s years of banked political capital guarantee that the Big Blue Eyesore will be exempted from quartering the shiftless.

    • My vote would go for the useless city hall rotunda. Could easily accommodate 100, easy to clean, close to downtown homeless service agencies, and a grim reminder to elected officials that “emergency shelters” fail to provide any long term solutions ( and no, simply providing free / low income housing isn’t a solution).

  7. In addition to their drain on taxpayer funded services, the health care system, law enforcement and just about anything else they don’t have to pay for, a large majority of these people are constantly stealing whatever items of value they can get their hands on.

    Surprisingly, I find that many are actually from the area and after leading less than honest lives for many years, in conjunction with substance abuse and mental health issues, they can no longer afford to live in the area. Much of what they know and are familiar with is here, and in a sense, they don’t move away because the devil they know is better than the devil they don’t.

    The county is developing a plan to deal with this issue from a much more treatment intensive standpoint, but without sustained employment and reasonably priced housing, it will fail. These new programs should partner with neighboring states that have open employment opportunities in undesirable areas and offer relocation assistance for their “clients” who successfully complete treatment.

  8. Back in the days when Governor Dodo’s daddy, Pat Brown, was governor, my recollection is that there were establish state run “shelters” that housed many, if not most of those currently described euphemistically as “homeless”.

    The shelters were known as “institutions:.

    Then, apparently in a spasm of political correctness, “institutions” became an un-cool term and the politically correct in customary lemming-like fashion all bobbled their synchronized bobble heads in the direction of the term “main streaming”.

    Boom. Institutions closed, Institutional inmates evicted and dumped on the streets. Inevitable result: a “homeless crisis”.

    Here’s and idea: why not “roll back the clock”, re-open the “institutions”, feed, clothe, and shelter the inmates at state expense, keep them from stealing, grifting, and defecating in public spaces, and let progressives find some other way to reproach society for being “uncaring” and “heartless”.

    Problem solved. Or at least regressed back to the problem that Pat Brown failed to solve.

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