Pictures from "In From the Cold" 2018

Our 9th annual “In From the Cold” 2018 fundraiser at Pivot Interiors in Santa Clara was a success!!! Thank you so much to all of our sponsors, vendors, guests and volunteers! A few pics below for you to enjoy, more to come: HomeFirst CEO Andrea Urton with HomeFirst Board Member and Cisco Systems SVP Oliver Roll; Bon Appetit’s Chef Francis Tigas with IFTC event committee member Julie Cesena; Bon Appetit’s Chef Ezra; HomeFirst CFO Jim Ptak giving the Spun Chair a spin; our auction room filled with bidding wars!


VTA Recognizes Community Partner HomeFirst

Not only are we celebrating our "In From the Cold" fundraiser tonight at Pivot Interiors, Inc., BUT we are also being awarded the Community Partnership Recognition by the Valley Transportation Authority Board of Directors meeting this evening as well!

“We are honored to be recognized and proud of our partnership with VTA to combat homelessness,” said HomeFirst CEO Andrea Urton. “It’s vitally important that we, as a community, rise above the perception that homelessness is an issue just facing those with addiction or mental health issues. Many hard working people living in Silicon Valley are often one car payment or one house payment away from losing both,” said Urton.

Full VTA statement here.

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CEO Andrea Urton Speaks with 102.9 KBLX-FM

Thank you to 102.9 KBLX for having our CEO Andrea Urton and CDO Stephanie Demos on "Listen Up Bay Area" with Armand Carr!

Homelessness is not just an issue in San Francisco, but everywhere in Santa Clara County as well. We all need to show more dignity and respect to those who need our help.

Thank you again Armand for having this important conversation with us, and for keeping hygiene kits in your car to hand out, too!!!

Listen to the full interview below or here!

Gilroy Cold Weather Shelter Now Open

Gilroy residents, we're ready and open to help you during this cold weather season at the Armory until April 15, 2019!!!

HomeFirst had a successful grand opening yesterday with over 40 individuals and families registered to have a warm place to sleep last night.

If you're looking for place to stay in South County, please call Kenneth Rideout at 408-489-8781 to secure your spot!


HomeFirst CEO Andrea Urton responds to allegations of program impropriety

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

By Andrea Urton

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 operated the Boccardo Reception Center (BRC) for over 35 years. 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

Univision visits COO Rene Ramirez at BRC

The Univision 14 TV crew visited the BRC to interview COO Rene Ramirez about the displacement of people of color in the Bay Area. Rene also spoke about our homeless Latino/Hispanic population, and the number of Latinos and Hispanics we serve at HomeFirst.

Check out his interview about this incredibly important situation in the Bay Area!

Estudio señala que la crisis de vivienda provoca segregación racial

De acuerdo con un estudio, donde participó la Universidad de Berkeley, es mayor el desplazamiento en ciertos vecindarios de minorías raciales que de blancos del mismo ingreso.

We need Gilroy's help!

Thank you City of Gilroy- Public Information Office for sharing the volunteer opportunities available at our Gilroy shelter with your community today!

Gilroy residents, we are also in need of blankets as we prepare for the shelter's opening on Oct. 15 at the Armory. Please help us spread the word to your neighbors and friends, thank you!!!

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Homeless Pet Owners need YOUR help!

Pet lovers and friends, please support HomeFirst and Vets for Healthy Pets by donating supplies and money to support our homeless pet owners!

The Humane Society Silicon Valley will also be providing free spay/neuter services at the San Jose Animal Care Center.

We'll see you there on Sat., Sept. 29 from 10 a.m to 1 p.m.

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Teaching students about homelessness

Teachers, as you begin your new school year, you can incorporate important lessons about homelessness in your classrooms! HomeFirst would be happy to help you out!

A special shout-out to Notimetowaste_food and Hillbrook School's 1st grade class of '17 for putting together 200 care packages, which included toothpaste, soap, shampoo, combs, hand cream, and personalized notes of encouragement for our shelter guests.

Thank you again to Ms. Sleasman, Ms. Nielsen and your wonderful 1st graders from all of us at HomeFirst!

Bizwomen: More than a third of college students go hungry

Buying nutritious food is a problem for more than a third of American college students, many of whom are working at low-income jobs, living off financial aid and student loans or raising families as they work towards a degree.

A study by the Wisconsin Hope Lab found that while low-income students strongly associate a college degree with financial security, the financial insecurity they’re trying to escape makes it hard to pay tuition, leading some to reduce spending on food or housing in order to continue their studies.  

The inability to eat properly may decrease a student's ability to concentrate resulting in an impact on their grades.

Read Anne Stych's full article here.

VentureBeat: In Silicon Valley, 59% of tech workers can’t afford homes

In Silicon Valley, home prices are out of control and are unaffordable even for tech workers, according to a survey by Team Blind, which operates an anonymous online community for workplaces. The survey found that 59 percent of tech workers — including many at 13 major tech companies — said they cannot afford to buy a house in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Everybody knows that Silicon Valley is an expensive place to live, but the survey shows that even those who logically ought to be able to afford a home cannot do so. The California Association of Realtors reported a house in San Francisco now runs over $1.5 million on average and that only 12 percent of San Francisco households were able to afford a median-priced single family home at the end of 2017.

Read Dean Takahashi's full article here.

Palo Alto Online & Palo Alto Weekly: Lack of housing takes heavy toll on health

Grace Kim counts it as a small miracle that she is still alive today. Her late teenage years were a blur of drugs, alcohol and mental trauma -- the byproducts of an abusive family life, she said. Couchsurfing was preferable to going home, and she would crash at friends' homes whenever she could. She was depressed, suicidal and constantly suffered from sharp pains in her stomach that she later learned were ulcers.

Her saving grace came at age 17, when a high school counselor helped secure her a room in a transitional living program. Although her new living situation was far from ideal -- lodging with about 10 other teens with their own emotional baggage -- the shelter was a lifesaver for Kim, and she credits it with allowing her to slowly move forward. Picking up the pieces of her life felt like a constant struggle, but she said she eventually landed a restaurant job and enrolled in community college. Kim's hard work led to a full-ride scholarship to college, and she continued her education at graduate school.

Read Mark Noack's full article here.

East Bay Times: Downtown San Jose welcomes first 100% homeless housing project

SAN JOSE — In the latest attempt to tackle the Bay Area’s growing homelessness crisis, city and county officials celebrated a milestone Monday — downtown San Jose’s first housing development dedicated exclusively to taking vulnerable residents off the streets.

Villas on the Park is set to house 83 homeless residents by October 2019. And what makes the project unique is its central location, just three blocks from City Hall and one block from St. James Park, a long-standing gathering spot for the city’s down-and-out.

As housing costs soar — the median sales price for a home in San Jose jumped from $699,000 in May 2015 to $1.07 million in May of this year, according to Zillow — low-income residents have been left behind, forced to shelter in tents, rudimentary lean-tos, cars and RVs across the Bay Area.

Read Marisa Kendall's full article here.

The Mercury News: Overnight dryer fire causes evacuation at San Jose homeless shelter

SAN JOSE — A fire ignited late Monday night in an industrial dryer at the Boccardo Reception Center, prompting the evacuation of dozens of people from the largest homeless shelter in Santa Clara County.

San Jose firefighters responded to the blaze at 2011 Little Orchard Street and found clothes on fire inside the dryer, according to Capt. Mitch Matlow. The fire, contained to the dryer, was quickly extinguished with no injuries.

Still, 238 people who were staying at the Boccardo Reception Center were evacuated amid concerns about air quality, said Stephanie Demos, a spokeswoman for Home First, which manages housing and shelter sites across Santa Clara County. The guests were given temporary shelter at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds.

“That was quite a group to move over,” Demos said. “We’re delighted there were no injuries or structural the center.”

Abe Andrade, executive director of the fairgrounds, received a call at 3 a.m. asking for help in temporarily housing the people from the Boccardo Center. He went down to the fairgrounds and opened up the Gateway Hall.

“Our facilities team rallied, got to the Fairgrounds early (Tuesday) morning, and we had a safe welcoming space ready to accept our neighbors,” Andrade said in a press release.

Several people at Boccardo Reception Center worked through the night cleaning and assessing the damage, Demos said. The people were able to return to the center by early Tuesday afternoon.

The shelter did lose scores of linens and has put out an “emergency call” to the community for donations of twin sheets, twin blankets and towels. Anyone wishing to make a donation can visit the Home First website or drop the needed items off at the Boccardo Reception Center.


Mayor Sam Liccardo calling on the San Jose community to support Tiny Homes.

Tiny Homes: It’s Time to Act to Confront Homelessness

“There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.”

-President John F. Kennedy

Every night, more than 4,300 individuals in San Jose must find a place to sleep in our creeks, parks, and freeway underpasses, in shelters, or by “couch-surfing” with friends or relatives. This crisis obviously takes a huge toll on our homeless residents: 132 people died countywide in 2016 while living among the elements.

Homelessness has also imposed hefty burdens on our entire community, and those costs come in many forms, including the impact to public safety. The financial expense alone appears substantial: a 2015 report titled Home Not Found: The Cost of Homelessness in Silicon Valley pegged the cost to City and County taxpayers at $520 million per year countywide. Among those costs are the millions we spend in the City of San Jose to address residents’ concerns related to homelessness, including requests for encampment abatements, vehicle abatements, officer and ranger enforcement, and the deployment of outreach for homeless individuals. The County spends much more in hospital emergency rooms.

While in recent years we’ve taken many steps in the right direction, the need remains enormous. With voter-approved Measure A permanent housing projects still years away from any ribbon-cutting, we need to find short-and medium-term strategies to house more of our homeless neighbors.

Fortunately, with the recent passage of state legislation AB2176, San Jose has a unique opportunity to pilot the construction of temporary ‘tiny homes’ for our homeless neighbors on public land. This type of project represents a promising and cost-effective strategy for rapidly housing some of our most vulnerable residents, restoring their dignity and putting them back on a path to self-sufficiency. You can see conceptual drawings of what tiny homes might resemble, with thanks to the Gensler architecture firm for developing these designs at no cost to taxpayers.

I recognize that many of our residents have concerns about how homeless housing could impact the surrounding community. Much of this opposition emanates from fears about having homeless people in their communities.

This argument overlooks a critical fact: thousands of homeless residents already live in our neighborhoods — whether on our streets, in our parks, or along our creeks. Living outside subjects each of those individuals — and the entire community — to extraordinary risk of harm. We can make our neighborhoods far safer, cleaner, and more livable if these same individuals have secure housing, with on-site managers and access to important social services.

“Tiny homes” represent one of the fastest and most cost-effective ways to get more of our homeless neighbors into housing.

Read this column from Barb Marshman at the Mercury News on why San Jose needs tiny homes.

It’s important to carefully examine the alternatives suggested by objectors, because the lure of the simplistic solution will mislead when we’re confronting a complicated human problem. To paraphrase HL Mencken — for every complex problem there is a solution that is clear, simple — and wrong.

For example, some have raised issues about costs. Each “tiny home” unit will cost roughly $20,000 to construct — but with larger additional costs in the form of site preparation and community facilities (for basic utilities, such as water and sewer), provision of security, and supportive services. Given the many nuances and varying descriptions of homeless housing program costs, I encourage you to read this staff report to better understand the numbers yourself.

As this report demonstrates, the real cost of providing housing homeless safely and effectively comes not in building the structure, but in provision of security, basic utilities, and services. We’ll face similar costs whether using wigwams, igloos, or any other solution. Cutting those services subjects everyone to the public health and safety problems that we currently see with encampments. And while some point to the use of “tough sheds” or tents, other lower-cost designs, those assertions overlook that the fact that we need to safely house people in a secure, habitable unit.

In addition, some have suggested that we use the same dollars to expand our “master leasing” of existing apartments and homes — an approach currently used by the Housing Department, but one which reached its limits long ago.

The success of “master leasing” programs depends on having a rental market with available affordable supply, and we face one of the tightest rental markets in the nation. To make it worse, many landlords will not rent to homeless tenants. Even if we could find available apartments, spending $1.6 million on a master leasing program will do nothing to expand our affordable housing supply, and scattering the housing across San Jose would make the County’s provision of critical services — such as job training or alcohol rehabilitation — infeasibly costly.

Moving Forward

For all of these reasons, I’ve joined with several colleagues to urge that the Council pursue a pilot “tiny home” project, with close evaluation to enable us to learn and improve the model. If it works, we’ll expand the concept, and seek an extension of the program from the state legislature. If not, we’ll focus on other remedies to address the crisis. That’s the nature of innovation: we must try, learn, and try again. Doing nothing — or trying the same failed approaches — only poses larger costs.

As part of this vote, I’ll also recommend we implement the robust plan developed by the Housing Department to thoroughly evaluate the viability of potential sites in our city, and to engage with the community before returning to the City Council with any recommendation on proposed sites. This will ensure that the Council and community have all the information they need to decide whether to ultimately move forward with a ‘tiny homes’ program.

This is the beginning of a complex and difficult conversation that our community must have about how and where we house our neediest residents in the City of San Jose. We can make our neighborhoods safer and healthier if we find ways to house our most vulnerable residents. Now is the time for our Council to demonstrate the leadership to bring our community together and confront this challenge.

Sam Liccardo

New HomeFirst Cold Weather Shelter to open in Mt. View.

The County of Santa Clara has contracted with HomeFirst Services of Santa Clara County to open a new Cold Weather Shelter at Hope’s Corner located within Trinity United Methodist Church (on the corner of Hope & Mercy Streets.) 

HomeFirst, which runs the largest shelter in the County for homeless adults, the Boccardo Reception Center located near the Plant mall in San Jose, has been operating the County’s Cold Weather Shelter Program since 1987.  The capacity of the BRC is 250, but can expand to 350 during especially inclement weather.  The Sunnyvale and Gilroy Cold Weather Shelters are open from October 16 to April 15 for single adults and families and together can welcome another 300+ individuals of all ages. 

All Cold Weather Shelter guests must be referred by one of the County’s designated social service agencies. 

The actual opening date for the new Mt. View shelter at Hope’s Corner has yet to be announced although that announcement is imminent once physical and operational conditions are met.  Once opened, this shelter will house 50 individuals – single women and women with children until March 31, 2018.

The County, HomeFirst and Trinity United Methodist Church have been working closely with the City of Mt. View to make this long awaited North County Shelter a reality.  Since the beginning, consistent efforts have been made to be sure local residents and community leaders are informed and engaged in this exciting new endeavor.  The next Community Meeting will be at 10:00am on Thursday, November 30 with monthly meeting scheduled on December 28th, January 25th, February 22nd and March 22nd. 

Following are the agencies providing referrals to the new Mt. View Cold Weather Shelter:

City of Mountain View Community Development

Community Services Agency Mountain View

Esteban Magaña: 650-968-0836 x

Thomas Herena: 650-447-5454

 Downtown Streets Team

Amanda Olson: 408-318-1996

Hope’s Corner

Bob Lee: 659-468-1612

Leslie Carmichael: 650-468-7890


Michael Ornales: 650-853-8672 x434

Philip Dah: 650-853-8672 x436

 Our Daily Bread

Cynthia Elliot/Donna Beres: 408-393-8179

Trinity United Methodist Church

Doug Kirby: 408-416-8412

West Valley Community Services

Grace Davis: 408-956-6078

For general questions, comments or concerns, please contact Stephanie Demos, HomeFirst, Chief Development and Communications Officer at 408 539 2100,