(Updated June 28) – The key to resolving homeless issues downtown and throughout Santa Clara County is moving people into permanent housing where they can also receive assistance with mental health, substance abuse and other medical issues, said housing experts at the June 9 meeting of the San Jose Downtown Association.
The Downtown Association hosted the meeting to update members on homelessness downtown based on results of the recent Property-Based Improvement District survey of property owners, who expressed their growing concern with homelessness.
Voters approved Measure A in November, which should inject $700 million throughout Santa Clara County into new permanent housing for homeless individuals over the next decade. The funding should be enough to build more than 4,300 units, which should make a big impact on the 5,000 people currently homeless in the county, said Scott Strickland, Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez’s chief of staff.
The county intends to sell $300 million in bonds in September, meaning that 1,500 to 2,000 units should be ready for occupancy in about three years, Strickland added.
People Assisting the Homeless (PATH’s) Megan Colvard, San Jose Director of Housing Jackie Morales-Ferrand and SJPD Capt. Jason Dwyer agreed that homeless solutions are coming, that it will take the entire community to make it happen, and they won’t happen overnight.
“It’s going to take education about the need for a permanent solution and the need for housing stock,” Colvard said. “I can assure you that our clients are ready for a solution. It’s going to take everyone advocating for more housing stock and supporting the proposals in your neighborhood.”
PATH’s first housing project in San Jose starts with demolition – scheduled to begin June 26 – of the structure on its 278 Second St. property just north of St. James park. The new building could open within two years with 78 beds and supportive services for the homeless.
The 47-room Plaza Hotel on San Pedro Street near San Fernando Street is scheduled to open in August, providing the recently homeless a short-term transitional place to stay until they can get back into a paying work situation.
Another “pre-Measure A” homeless facility of 160 units is expected to open in the next year or so at Senter and Tully roads.
Morales-Ferrand offered a 97 percent retention rate among the 1,700 people the city has helped to find housing. Strickland said that the county’s success at placing individuals permanently is 92 percent. Colvard noted that economics also favor placement, noting that the average cost of assisting someone on the streets is about $60,000 per year vs. $20,000 to have them in permanent shelter.
Morales-Ferrand acknowledged that the transition for some homeless people who have been on the streets for up to 30 years into housing may take several tries. “We don’t give up and we have made a commitment to find placement for some individuals again and again,” Morales-Ferrand said.
Other near-term initiatives include:
• The county is considering adoption of Laura’s Law, which would allow court-ordered assisted treatment in some cases where the homeless individual is deemed a danger to themselves or others.
• Various agencies are taking a closer look at recent violence at the Donner Lofts to potentially de-escalate future situations and improve on-site management.
• Police will continue to “make a calculated approach to enforcement and issue citations to those who commit low-level crimes,” Dwyer said. “But we do it knowing that the jail won’t hold them and that they will be back on the streets.”
Though appreciative of all the various actions being taken, some downtown business owners expressed frustration that not enough is happening in the immediate short term to help the homeless and improve street-level conditions.