SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) – The city of San Jose is exploring a new strategy to help the homeless and fight prostitution at the same time, by giving away motel rooms to the homeless where prostitutes have set up shop.
Along North First Street and Monterey Highway, prostitutes work the streets out in the open, often using the strip’s low-rent motels as their home base.
At the same time, a growing number of homeless people have also moved out into the open…onto downtown streets and parks.
San Jose City Councilmember Sam Liccardo thinks there’s a way to address both problems at the same time.
“As we talk to the owners of those motels, we’re hearing there’s a lot of under-utilized space there. And there’s an opportunity here,” said Liccardo. “If we could displace some of the prostitution with an opportunity to house homeless that know we simply haven’t had the resources to be able to house.”
It would cost about a million dollars to house 60 people for a year. It’s a new strategy that’s just getting its first hearing at the city’s economic development committee.
“It’s actually more costly for someone to receive services from the city or from the county living out in the street,” said committee Chair Rose Herrera. “Quite a bit more costly. Thousands and thousands of dollars.”
The plan could be offered first to the recently homeless or people who stand the best chance of quickly getting back into their own housing.
“It’s a good idea. I think it will help a lot of people get off the streets,” said one homeless woman Christina Balga. “Give them self-confidence and be ego-boosting.”
Another homeless woman, Valery Soto, agreed. “It would keep them from dying – and they could take showers and people would actually want to shake their hand.”
But not everyone is buying into the idea. One man whose family has a restaurant near some of the motels is afraid it might drag the neighborhood down even more.
“If you basically have like a skid row, if you will – for a restaurant, that’s like the worst thing that could happen to us and the neighborhood as well,” said Anand Shah.
San Jose officials said only about half of the rooms at any one motel would be used under the program and motel owners would be free to decide whether to opt in or not.
The program would be run by a certified homeless agency. The issue was expected to come before the full city council later this spring.