SAN JOSE (CBS SF) – 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 stamps…now 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 November 16 with site locations and a plan to start building.
Merriman said he is already in contact with several local municipalities to identify sites.
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