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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Thomas Herena: 650-447-5454 email@example.com
Downtown Streets Team
Amanda Olson: 408-318-1996
Bob Lee: 659-468-1612 firstname.lastname@example.org
Leslie Carmichael: 650-468-7890 email@example.com
Michael Ornales: 650-853-8672 x434
Philip Dah: 650-853-8672 x436 firstname.lastname@example.org
Our Daily Bread
Cynthia Elliot/Donna Beres: 408-393-8179
Trinity United Methodist Church
Doug Kirby: 408-416-8412 email@example.com
West Valley Community Services
Grace Davis: 408-956-6078 firstname.lastname@example.org
For general questions, comments or concerns, please contact Stephanie Demos, HomeFirst, Chief Development and Communications Officer at 408 539 2100, email@example.com.
CARF International has accredited the Veteran’s Programs of HomeFirst for a period of three years. These programs include Community Housing, Services Coordination, and Rapid Rehousing and Homelessness Prevention Programs.
Over the weekend Governor Brown declared a state of emergency regarding the Hepatitis A outbreaks in California. Currently there have been reports of Hepatitis A in San Diego, Santa Cruz and Los Angeles Counties.
We have not received any reports of Hepatitis A in Santa Clara County, however we are working to educate staff, guest and the homeless community about this recent outbreak. Our HF Outreach team is distributing this flyer at encampments throughout San Jose and also partnering with VHHP and SCC Public Health Department to identify high risk areas for targeted Outreach.
Our most vulnerable neighbors need towels, twin size sheets, rain ponchos, small toiletry items, nonperishable snacks, new white socks & underwear (including bras in all sizes), sweat pants, sweat shirts & store gift cards.
San Jose’s plan to build tiny cottages for the homeless ran into vocal opposition, with people at one meeting literally chanting “build a wall” to block out the impoverished.
Weak public outreach by City Hall and backlash from neighborhood groups resulted in the number of potential sites shrinking from 99 to four, then three and now two.
San Jose’s elected leaders now have to figure out how to salvage the project.
"Tell me what you think a homeless person is like?"
It's the question with which I start every presentation to children and teens. The list of adjectives - which I always assume comes from talk over the dinner table - is not pretty.
Homeless Veterans from HomeFirst were able to spend some time relaxing and visiting with the horses at Victory ranch recently. Victory Ranch Inc. has started a Veterans Ranch Visit Program, that brings horses and Veterans together to enjoy a special outing, and experience a peaceful time at a rural ranch in the SW San Jose area.
After becoming homeless with her husband and two daughters in 2014, Stephanny found support at the Boccardo Family Living Center (BFLC). Living with family members and in crowded rooms was especially difficult for the young girls. At the BFLC, her daughter learned to crawl and the family received financial education.
Effective April 10, 2017 the Seven Trees Community Center shelter for displaced flood victims was closed. We are fortunate to have a strong partner in the City of San José, particularly the Parks, Recreation & Neighborhood Services, and Housing Department, to ensure high quality services. We've also been in daily contact with Mayor Sam Liccardo's office.
Please take time to read and download HomeFirst’s Annual Report for the 2015-2016 fiscal year. Inside you will find a message from our CEO, an overview of programs and services, a financial summary, and our annual honor roll of donors of $1,000+. We are sincerely grateful for every gift received. You allow us to continue our work to end homelessness.
Cirque du Soleil's new show, LUZIA™, is coming to town and HomeFirst has been chosen as a beneficiary. 100% of your ticket purchase will support our programs and services for homeless youth. It's a perfect holiday or Valentine's Day gift that allows us to make a difference in the lives of youth and their families.
The Cold Weather Shelter Program (CWSP) is open through March 2017. The program is funded by the County of Santa Clara and has been operated primarily by HomeFirst for nearly 30 years. HomeFirst will operate three shelter sites in addition to overnight warming locations in partnership with the City of San Jose.
The Gilroy Armory Shelter and the new Sunnyvale shelter will provide beds, two meals a day, and a hot shower to clients. Supportive services are also offered, such as employment resources, medical care and referrals to other services. Donated toiletries and clothing are available to those who need them, and volunteers offer haircuts.