SAN JOSE — Solving Silicon Valley’s homeless problem takes more than one approach.
City leaders on Tuesday will mull a variety of solutions that fit each category, starting with the short-term: extending an ordinance that allows churches to house homeless people for 35 days a year without any red tape or costly permits. That program, which was approved in December, will end June 30. The City Council Tuesday will consider extending it another year and allowing faith-based groups to house the poor twice a year — still for 35 days at a time.
“The faith-based community is telling us we want to do more and we want to empower them,” said Ray Bramson, San Jose’s homeless response manager. “This shows what people are able to do when the government steps back and gives them a little more flexibility.”
The Holy Spirit Parish in Almaden Valley was one of 16 churches that signed up. For one month, 600 volunteers helped cook meals and provide support to 15 homeless women.
“The women came here with a variety of problems that put them on the streets,” said Mike Ferrero, the church’s director of social ministries. “We developed personal relationships with them and they didn’t have to worry about where their next meal was coming from or where they would sleep.”
The second proposal on Tuesday’s agenda is temporary “bridge housing” — a cluster of manufactured homes on Evans Lane to shelter residents until they find permanent housing. The plan, which has drawn criticism from neighbors who fear the project will increase crime, would create 102 bedrooms with shared kitchens and bathroom space.
The City Council will consider rezoning the six-acre site to allow for residential use, a change approved last month by the Planning Commission.
City leaders chose Abode Services to build the dwellings — a $15 million undertaking — but approval of the contract was delayed until August at the request of Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio, who represents the site near Canoas Garden.
“It was putting the cart before the horse,” Oliverio said. “We can’t give Abode a ground lease and $15 million before we vote on the project. The residents were told they had the chance to speak on the project prior to a decision being made. We need to honor that.”
Then there’s the need for permanent housing. That’s where the controversial Senter Road project comes into play. The plan calls for building a 162-unit apartment complex called the Renascent Place for chronically homeless people. It would be built on county-owned land at 2500 Senter Road that’s inside city limits. Santa Clara County teamed up with Charities Housing, a nonprofit housing developer, on the project and it won’t cost the city anything.
A team of eight to 12 employees would provide supportive services on site, and the facility would have 24-hour security. But neighbors voice similar concerns as Evans Lane: Increased crime, traffic, noise, decreased property values and safety concerns.
Homelessness experts, however, say a well-managed apartment facility will provide more eyes on the street and could actually deter crime. Senter Road neighbors appealed the Planning Commission’s unanimous approval of the project in April, and the City Council will consider whether to uphold it Tuesday.
Councilman Tam Nguyen, whose district includes the development, withdrew his support of the plan after pressure from residents and a trip to Portland, where he slept in a legal tent city. He believes Senter Road isn’t a good spot for the project and outdoor encampments might be a better approach.
“Absolutely it can work here,” Nguyen said in a previous interview. “If it’s done the right way. Give it a chance. But we need to take it slow and start with a small project first.”
The City Council on Tuesday will also hear an update on encampments. It was nearly a year ago that San Jose shut down “The Jungle,” one of the country’s largest illegal homeless camps. City housing officials say they are wary of sanctioned encampments because they don’t bring homeless indoors or provide stability.
But the city’s elected leaders joined the county in January to seek bids for an operator to build “unconventional housing” — including encampments. Two nonprofits submitted bids, Bramson said, but neither addressed overcoming the environmental, fire and safety barriers of tent cities.
The council Tuesday is also expected approve providing funding for capital improvements to landlords who accept referrals to house homeless veterans. It’s part of the All the Way Home campaign, which aims to house all 700 homeless vets in Santa Clara County by 2018. The city set aside $5 million in funding for the endeavor.
The city’s multipronged approach pleased advocates who work to house the homeless.
“Homelessness isn’t all created equal; nor should be our solutions,” said Jennifer Loving, who directs the nonprofit Destination: Home. “We need a variety of tools to ensure we are able to provide the right intervention, just as we would with health care or business.”