Op-Ed: Homeless People Should be Housed, Not Warehoused

I am writing in response to yesterday’s op-ed titled Are We Serious About Ending Homelessness—or Pushing Out Homeless People? by Shaunn Cartwright.

First let me say that we, at HomeFirst Services of Santa Clara County, are committed to doing all that we can to assist the 7,398 homeless individuals—men, women and children—counted in the 2017 point-in-time county census. We know that number is low and may not take into consideration other individuals and families who live on the edge of homelessness due to job loss, medical emergencies, redevelopment, or natural disasters such as flooding or fire.

HomeFirst, formerly known as EHC LifeBuilders, has been in business for 35 years and operated the Boccardo Reception Center (BRC) for over 20. Our mission is to confront homelessness by cultivating people’s potential to get and stay housed. Our agency has worked toward these goals since our inception in 1980. In addition to the BRC, HomeFirst operates and manages separate housing programs for families, as well as the Overnight Warming Locations that are established each winter at various locations throughout Santa Clara County.

The BRC, the county’s largest emergency shelter with 250 beds for adults only, offers a range of services through a complex fabric of contracts with different government agencies and private donations, including medical respite, VA programs for homeless veterans, reentry programs through Probation, New Start and Working Persons Programs and more. HomeFirst works very hard to leverage limited resources through strategic partnerships with other nonprofit agencies, civic organizations, volunteers, fundraising efforts, and outreach programs.

After a comprehensive and thoughtful evaluation and review process over the course of the past year, which involved meetings with our strategic partners and government agencies, including the County of Santa Clara, the city of San Jose, Valley Medical Center, Valley Health and Homeless Program, San Jose Police Department and HomeFirst staff, HomeFirst recently implemented some significant changes designed to more effectively fulfill its mission to assist homeless individuals get established on the path towards permanent housing.

It is well established that the only viable solution to homelessness is permanent housing, which is especially challenging in Santa Clara County due to the lack of sufficient affordable housing, not just for the chronic homeless, but low wage earners, displaced families, victims of domestic violence, and persons displaced by evictions, job losses, and natural disasters.

For all of these, finding a pathway to permanent housing is much more cost effective in the long run than simply just providing an overnight bed in a large warehouse. The proper solution requires a combination of not just a safe place to sleep, but supportive services, case management and follow up.

This is what Wednesday’s change was all about: creating workable plans for individuals from homelessness to being housed, not warehoused. Bringing in 45 individuals who will have a guaranteed bed for up to 60 days with possible exceptions during which they can receive case management, housing assistance and more.

They will have access to skills building opportunities such as New Start and to the Working Person’s Program that assists them in maintaining a job or jobs—regardless of hours while saving money to prepare for becoming housed.

In the National Alliance to End Homelessness in their “Best Practices of Emergency Shelters: The Critical Role of Emergency Shelter in an Effective Crisis Response System” by Cynthia Nagendra and Kay Moshier McDivitt, states, “Low-barrier shelter is a cornerstone of a functional crisis response system.” And so the BRC located on Little Orchard has been transitioned to a be a low-barrier shelter.

In building upon the concept of best practice, they call for shelter that is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days per year with staff available to allow entry as needed and that there is a direct connection to street outreach.

The BRC and, under the current interim plan, the Sunnyvale Family Shelter are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year with staff available as noted. HomeFirst Outreach Teams visit more than a dozen encampments per day in two-person teams, thus there is a direct connection to street outreach.

Let me be clear, living in a shelter is not ideal.

The BRC is a place that is warm when it is cold outside, and cool when the temperatures soar. We serve three meals a day and because of a great community partnership offer Starbucks snacks and entrees as a choice. We are blessed with thousands of volunteers who prepare and serve meals, run warm coat and blanket drives and so much more. These volunteers greet our guests with respect and consideration.  Our staff is well trained in de-escalation practice and customer service.

We work with every provider named in the article. We have successfully operated the Overnight Warming Locations for San Jose for the past three years, and hope to do so again this year. It is a grueling process, but we are proud of the job we have done.

At the end of the day, anyone advocating for our homeless neighbors is literally saving lives. And we deeply appreciate their efforts. HomeFirst hosts the annual memorial service for those in who have died in our county while still homeless.

Ms. Cartwright was there last year when 116 names were read aloud—the youngest just 21 and many in their 50s or 60s. As far as I know that is the last time she was in the BRC. It is far from an ideal environment, but we know that this new practice will ultimately raise the sense of personal safety, reduce the number of threatening incidents and introduce hope as a common practice. This is what HomeFirst is all about.

Andrea Urton is the CEO of HomeFirst Services of Santa Clara County. Opinions in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected]


  1. the programs mentioned in this article were all in place during my stay at BRC ,in fact, I’m in this picture on your article, the problem is all these programs have limits as to how many they can help, Julian House only has so many beds, and many are in a gray area, during my stay I didn’t qualify for any, either I worked, worked not enough hours,or because I was self employed, Home First does the best they can with limited funds, and support,what city,county,state and federal officals need to know is not how many are homeless but “why” so many are homeless, I was there I saw why everyday and night, we have city officials going to Seattle to spend a night in a homeless shelter (???) why not here,to see for themselves,what Home first is doing is fantastic with what they receive and get, sorry to ramble
    best regards
    scott pearson

  2. Odd that the CEO of the agency thinks that they’ve operated the Boccardo Reception Center for more than 35 years; I’m pretty sure that it opened much, much later than that. Like more than a decade later than that. Details.

  3. > First let me say that we, at HomeFirst Services of Santa Clara County, are committed to doing all that we can to assist the 7,398 homeless individuals—men, women and children—counted in the 2017 point-in-time county census.

    Gee. Isn’t 7,398 homeless individuals a big INCREASE?

    I wonder why the number is going UP?

    Sounds like all the programs and policies to reduce homelessness are failing.

  4. Of course the homeless are people, but why are we treating them like a natural resource or an endangered species to be preserved and coddled?

    • “People” to most rational, empathetic beings are neither a natural resource or an endangered species. Serve a meal at an emergency shelter. Sleep in a cardboard box or on the street. Spend 24 hours not knowing what, if anything, you will eat. Fall asleep knowing you are not physically safe and there is nothing you can do about it. Sleep in your car not knowing where, when or how you will take a shower, wash your hair or clean your clothes. Fit everything you own into 2 large trash bags. Then tell us if you feel coddled and preserved. Consider what it feels like to have people turn away rather than look in your eyes or to look with naked derision and contempt. Think about the slurs, very real threat of violence and physical vulnerability. Tell us then if you see them as coddled or endangered.

  5. As with every bureaucrat, the only strategy is to spend as much money as you get get your hands on, someone else’s money. As the amount of money and the number of people you manage determine your success and your political weight, Which then explains why the number of homeless has been growing up and will continue to grow up, even if you increase their budget not 100% but 100 times. This is California bureaucrats failing at their finest.

    • In your scenario who is the bureaucrat who is spending all this money and amassing all this power. Do you understand that the only true solution to homelessness is affordable housing? That it cost less to provide affordable housing and case management than to keep building emergency shelters and turning a blind eye to the income disparity that is keeping so many on the streets?

      • > Do you understand that the only true solution to homelessness is affordable housing?

        Therefore . . .

        If you can’t afford a house, you will be homeless.

        The solution to the “homeless problem” is NOT the house, it is the person needing the house.

        The “homeless problem” is NOT a real estate problem. “Tiny homes”, sheds, refrigerator boxes, tents in median strips, punishing landlords, fat budgets for government bureaucrats are NOT solutions.

        The person needing the house must learn how to provide for his or her housing needs in a capitalist economy OR he or she must accept the status of “ward of the state” and live in the housing that the public chooses to make available to them.

  6. > Op-Ed: Homeless People Should be Housed, Not Warehoused

    What’s the difference?

    If they are “housed” at public expense without any options, they are “warehoused”.

    If the public is providing the warehousing, the public can decide the location and the amenities for the warehouses.

    Double decker bunks in barracks on reservations in North Dakota. It’s good enough for the Indians.

  7. If the housing crisis and increased rents do not subside,
    I, too, will be homeless…..
    Food for thought

  8. I am writing in response to yesterday’s op-ed titled Are We Serious About Ending Homelessness—or Pushing Out Homeless People? by Shaunn Cartwright.

    My name is R. Larkin I am a Marine Corp. Veteran and in 2016 while living in Long Beach I made a decision to leave my apartment to save money. Well beside selling my 2-family home in Bergen County, N.J this was the biggest mistake I have made in my life. I ended up cold, alone and broke on a November’s night in butcher park. My uninsured truck was totaled by a uninsured driver causing me to loss the vehicle and rendering me homeless.

    I arrived at a place that I called “the shelter” I could have cared less what its legal name was at that time. My primary goal for my service dog and I was safety. You see I never been homeless before and just the thought of sleeping in the park with my values and CiCi at my side just seemed like a bad movie script.

    As they say back east “let’s cut to the chase”. You can read a more personal description of my journey in a peice I written titled “ Shocked & Amazed”. It outlines my feelings towards what Advocate Shaunn Cartwright calls “little torture”.
    Personally to answer his question of are we serious I feel that Google, Adobe, Paypal and the Sharks ownership should cut the check to franchise .Boccardo Reception Center (BRC) We should start off by fixing this city first from the inside out. By adding three more facilities. “Little Torcher” is considered South so add a Northern, Eastern and Western San Jose locations. Because if you do not there can be a likelihood in the future of another city, state or even a country looking to win over these tech giants and claiming the title of “the tech capital of the world’. This town in my opinion needs a bath. Second,have the city cut the check to the San Francisco Giants so we can build a dome baseball stadium for the New San Jose A’s our professional baseball team.

    Well let me say this about “are we serious about ending homelessness”. The word ENDING let’s first crawl, walk then run – will can sprint later. The only reason Shaunn I am not going to take your career back years is because you covered yourself by trying to labast that facility by using a question. Now us eastcoaster we don’t fall for that s…

    I was the first resident in our mayor’s pilot program over at The Plaza Hotel this was after three months in the shelter and working daily with numerous people assisting in my primary goal of long term housing.

    Now to date I have four offers of housing that’s not including the most difficult program to get approved for which is Section 8 Housing Voucher. Oh by the way I am approved for two of them- one being in Kentucky. Folks I can go on and on about all the valuable information and all the programs that I am eligible for and some I have received. I never had any idea until I met the staff up at Home First.

    See Mr. Cartwright’s job description is one of a advocate. Which is defined as “ A person supporting an idea or cause publicly”. They watch from the sidelines and scurry over to the group breathing heavily with the appearance that they took a side during the execution of a plan. Personality you should apologize and never again try to influence voters without first hand knowledge of the subject matter your discussing.

    You should of been someone that crossed my path here during my stay here at The Plaza. Because your article is asking are we serious. The Plaza is the next stepping stone from the shelter from here its into permanent housing . So you follow that trail bring your calculator and run the numbers to see how it is working. You didn’t follow through. Back they would label you lazy.

    By doing your homework you would of found out that the majority of people call the shelter: “SnackTime”.

    Now for the childless label you in your article has been calling the program.That evolved from the meth heads down the street, around the corner and sleeping on the railroad tracks because you need to be proactive to make it work.

    But no worries “Little Torture” there’s a select few of name callers in the group that am associated with – but many of society love, chesih,respect and thank god we are on their side.


    I do have a soft spot in my heart for what that program has done for me. And if you ever Mr. Cartwright like to discuss this in detail and in person meet me anyday at 8 PM over at the shelter.

    A save room for dessert because 8pm is “ SNACKTIME”

    Semper Fi,

    R. Larkin

  9. People are starting to notice that California is a mess:

    “Middle class is disappearing in California as wealth gap grows”


    “The combination of government overreach and ineffective programs creates a brutal dichotomy of very rich and very poor. California is the fourth most unequal state in the union with so many homeless who face diseases like typhus and hepatitis. The number of people living on the streets in California increased by nearly 14 percent to more than 130,000 in 2017. Mark Zuckerberg is worth $70 billion, while San Franciscans have an app that helps them track human feces on the sidewalk.”

    But, not to worry.

    I’m told that if we just elect more Democrats, raise taxes on the middle class, pay better pensions to government employees, and create more homeless programs, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

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