Santa Clara County Considers Spending $25M for New ‘Interim’ Housing Units

Santa Clara County Supervisors may approve $25 million next week to build 10 new interim housing sites around the county.

The proposal, introduced by Supervisors Joe Simitian and Otto Lee, allocates $2.5 million for each site in American Rescue Plan dollars to fund the development and operational costs of 10 sites for five years.

“That has the potential to (help) 20,000 people over the course of a five-year period,” Simitian said at a news conference at an interim housing site in Mountain View.

Simitian and local leaders gathered at the site, operated by nonprofit LifeMoves, to introduce the proposal coming to the board of supervisors on Tuesday.

It's a site they are hoping to replicate throughout the county "10 times over," LifeMoves CEO Aubrey Merriman said.

This is because it is a cost-effective site that can be built quickly to provide houseless residents with shelter and services to help them move into supportive housing.

The sites are built out of converted shipping containers that are about 40 square feet in size. Each unit costs between $50,00 to $200,000 per unit and can take less than six months, Merriman said.

In comparison, a traditional shelter can take years to build at a cost of $400,000 to $800,000 per unit, supervisors said.

LifeMoves Vice President of Real Estate and Operations Joanne Price said it's also a cost-effective method because it saves taxpayers money.

She said at the Mountain View site, with all the services, staff and development costs, it's about $75-$95 a night per person and bed.

By comparison, the cost to leave someone chronically homeless in Santa Clara County is about $227 a night, according to a 2015 report by housing advocacy group Destination: Home.

LifeMoves would be the operator of the 10 sites if the board proposal is passed on Sept. 28 and use the Mountain View site as the model.

At the location, there are 100 rooms that house about 100 adults and 20 children. Eighty-eight of the rooms are single occupancy that can be shared by two people and 12 rooms are designated for families of up to five people.

Each room is equipped with air conditioning, storage space, a desk and a bed.

The site also has a small playground for children, community rooms, shared bathrooms and more than a dozen washer and dryers.

There, residents receive a myriad of personalized services, like case management, mental health support and employment services, to help them move into permanent housing.

It's a method Merriman said has been tried and true. At the Mountain View site, 69 percent of individuals and 89 percent of families were able to return to permanent supportive housing in a matter of months.

“It’s more than just a lock on the door,” Merriman said. “It's coupled with our intensive and comprehensive services that we deliver to each one of our clients.”

Diane Jones, a current resident of the interim housing site, said her room was the perfect rest stop to allow her to get back on her feet.

“It seems small, but it isn't,” Jones said. “It’s a place where I can go to sleep safely, I can lock the door, Its amazing.”

Jones, a longtime Mountain View resident, fell into homelessness after her divorce. Though she once worked at NASA and Cisco, she became a stay-at-home mother after having her son. So, when she got divorced, she was left without an income and subsequently without a place to stay.

“Then I became disabled and so my fixed income of $1,300 a month just wasn't enough to find a place to live," Jones said. "I ended up homeless with my son."

But after living in the interim housing site for a little over three months, she said staff helped her son find a job. And with their shared income, she and her son are moving into an apartment in Mountain View in two weeks.

“I am really happy I am staying in my hometown, and I don't have to leave,” Jones said. “I will always, always recommend this place.”

Many city representatives from Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Palo Alto and Santa Clara attended the Thursday news conference to show their support for the proposal or learn more about it.

Sunnyvale City Councilmember Alyssa Cisneros said she was eager to work with LifeMoves and the county to build a similar interim site in her city.

“We have a data drive, cost effective and high impact interim housing solution for those who need it the most,” Cisneros said.

She emphasized that temporary housing was essential for people to get back on track.

“Imagine trying to figure our appointments, applications for housing and figuring out how to get food imagine doing that but you don't have a place to put your things every day,” Cisneros said. “People need to have security in their lives to reach their full potential.”

She continued that she was especially excited that this would be a multi-partner approach.

“None of us can do this alone and we should have to,” the recently elected Sunnyvale councilmember said. “Multifaceted problems require multi-partner solutions.”

Simitian called on city leaders, nonprofits and philanthropies to join the county in funding such solutions, especially as homelessness continues to impact more residents.

The county’s most recent homelessness census in 2019 found nearly 10,000 residents were experiencing homelessness - of which 80 percent were unsheltered. That number is predicted to be higher and to have increased in the last two years, especially with the impacts of the pandemic.

A 2020 report by Working Partnerships USA predicted that more than 40,000 homes in Santa Clara County are at risk of eviction and face homelessness once the eviction moratorium expires. The state's eviction moratorium ends Sept. 30.

“Given these numbers, we've got to go big,” Simitian said. “Incremental efforts just aren't getting the job done.”

Simitian said he is hopeful the proposal will pass as it needs three votes. If it does, county staff will report back to the board on Nov. 16 with site locations and a plan to start construction.

Merriman said he is already in contact with several local municipalities to identify sites.




  1. The County and the City seem to think they can always find the money to “help the homeless”.
    But suggest to them that they hire security to prevent reencampment following an expensive encampment sweep and, “Oh, no. We don’t have the budget for that!”

  2. With all the empty and fruitlessly driven out of business hotels, motels and restaurants in California it does seem we could just put the homeless into the empty structures left behind. Don’t really need to build anything new at this point. Maybe a few improvements to existing structures. Problem solved.

  3. “The sites are built out of converted shipping containers that are about 40 square feet in size. Each unit costs between $50,00 to $200,000 per unit and can take less than six months, Merriman said.“. A shipping container, at 5×8 for 40sf, at $200k??!! That’s $5000/sf, are you kidding? For a 5×8 shipping container? Do news reporters have any sense of cost anymore, to question this?

    This is problem #1 with the entire approach to homeless housing, unrealistic and unquestioned budget, because it’s funded by bottomless tax dollars from numerous sources, and with very undefined goals and objectives, managed by any number of non-profit (yet high overhead) management firms, all overseen by pragmatic government bureaucrats who feel they have no input due to various funding streams and politicians that approve funds for this. There are far too many variables in this equation.

    But a start for his article is to question that cost of $50k-$200k for a 40sf unit, then follow up with the details of what is the objective?; what/where is the site?; how many units are to be built?; the type of clientele, whether chronic street homeless or families?; available budget, management overhead, associated support services, and then an alternative analysis of various living unit options. These containers may be the most expensive and yet least effective option to achieve the desired objective.

  4. The agenda packet for the meeting Tuesday is almost 3000 pages and there seems to be nothing about square footage. There’s a footnote to a LifeMoves “playbook” which also has nothing. But I found this link to a local company which says,

    “Large shipping container dimensions are 40, 48 or 54 ft long, 8 feet wide, and 8.5 ft high.”

    So the containers must be 40 ft long, 320 sq ft. At $200k/unit, that’s $625/sq ft.

  5. If you can’t afford to live here then MOVE.

    If that sounds simplistic then it is because it is that simple.

  6. Buy 6,000 cots (or whatever the current HL population currently is), put them in a warehouse for overnight beds and arrest anyone who is sleeping on the streets instead of one of those cots.

    That’s all we need to do. Nothing more, to fulfill the SCOTUS requirement for enforcing vagrancy laws. That will get results.

    Stop coddling these people who are coming from around the country to take advantage of us, because their antics are not tolerated in other states.

    Aside from that, start firing the people who are wasting billions without getting results and not being held accountable. That will get results.

    Start clawing back the 100’s of millions of grants to NPO’s who are not getting results, other than creating wealthy directors. That will get results.

    Lastly; People, start voting differently if you really want results! Else, expect more of the same and for things to get worse.

  7. @Hoapres No money. No car. No relatives. Move how? Move where? But hey, maybe you’ll give a homeless person a ride to somewhere ?

  8. OK, so that is still not anything close to $200,000 for a 40sf container. And it is not even close the to the low end of $50k mentioned in the article. The article was not corrected, and since it was likely pulled from a County report, that report was also not corrected. Meaning that the $200,000 for a 40sf metal container is what this non-profit has indeed budgeted or is charging the County. $5000/sf for a metal container is absurd, and clearly demonstrates that this process is corrupt. This cost is inexcusable.

  9. Buy ready to build shed that cost $20K-$30K. The higher end shed ($30,000) resembles a big bedroom with windows, French doors….I will contact my Dist sup. to tell stupid and wasteful to give bottomless money…my tax money

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