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.