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Serving in a time of COVID-19

April 17, 2020:

Take a Look Behind The Scenes as HomeFirst Adjusts to COVID-19

As we surpass our first 30 days of Shelter in Place orders, I want to call out and give kudos to our amazing staff. While we all have a deep appreciation for our healthcare workers, delivery, grocery and essential staff keeping our communities moving – HomeFirst staff are among those making sure critical services are being provided to our most vulnerable citizens.


In addition to regular duties, we have team members who have stepped in to fill frontline shortages as we have expanded shelter services. We have staff covering for colleagues who may need to be out to care for their families or themselves. While this group of people have always operated with a focus on our mission, I have seen them elevate their commitment, checking in on each other and providing exceptional service to those in our shelters, managing kids at home, sharing where to get the elusive toilet paper, and shouldering the stress COVID-19 has caused all of us. 

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April 17, 2020:

Bay Area Homeless Shelters Struggle to Prevent Next Coronavirus Outbreak

April 17, 2020:

Listen to CEO, Andrea Urton on the Ongoing Steps Taken to Operate HomeFirst During a Global Pandemic

April 5, 2020:

Santa Clara County Says Homeless With COVID-19 Have Temporary Shelter

The Bay Area's hardest-hit county now has temporary shelter for homeless people who have tested positive for COVID-19. This comes as Santa Clara County strengthens its mission to help more of the region's un-housed community.

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April 4, 2020:

HomeFirst Opens Two New Shelters in Downtown San Jose for COVID-19 Response

HomeFirst is doing all we can to confront the threat of the novel coronavirus head-on and prevent our network of human services from being critically and fatally overwhelmed. To this end we have partnered with the City of San Jose to open two additional 24-hour emergency shelters in downtown San Jose.

The two new shelters in San Jose will provide an additional 175 beds to our unhoused community and help us maintain social distancing across all sites. We’d like to thank the City of San Jose for the speed and compassion they have shown in helping prepare these new shelters. The shelter in Parkside Hall (pictured), located behind The Tech, received its first guests this Wednesday, April 1st, and the shelter at South Hall of the San Jose Convention Center will begin accepting guests next week.

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March 30, 2020:

Urton: If Ever There Was a Time to Think Globally and Act Locally, It is Now

Andrea Urton is the CEO of HomeFirst, a nonprofit organization that provides services, shelter and housing opportunities to the homeless and those at risk of homelessness in Santa Clara County.

This week Apple announced it is donating 9 million protective masks to the US COVID-19 relief efforts. Facebook offered 720,000 masks and Tesla another 250,000.  A March 25 headline read, “This weekend saw a flurry in Silicon Valley CEOs promising heir companies would donate masks to health care workers.”

This is wonderful news; we applaud these efforts as they address the vulnerability of first responders in hospitals across the nation.

Yet there is another critical need – right here in Silicon Valley. Some of the most vulnerable among us are those who are homeless. We run the largest homeless emergency shelters in our county with operations now running 24-hours a day/7 days-a-week from Gilroy to Mountain View with beds for over 500 individuals (infants to senior citizens) each night.

Our staff, like hospital health care workers, have risen to the occasion working long hours, often redeployed to new sites as the need arises. They are without adequate protection. Our staff and our clients need your help. We need 100,000 N95 respirators (masks) now for the next few weeks. We are absolutely thrilled that our local tech giants are doing so much and that tireless health care workers will receive these masks across the country. We need them as well.

We are inviting people to sew homemade masks, a short term compromise, but as the CDC warns, “Homemade masks should ideally be used in combination with a face shield that covers the entire front (that extends to the chin or below) and sides of the face.” We do not have face shields or masks/respirators.

While direct dollar donations are still essential for supplies and meals, we really need these masks/respirators now. They are critical to maintaining the health of those who serve and those we serve.

March 30, 2020:

Nonprofits Scramble to Help Santa Clara County Homeless During Coronavirus Shutdown

Shelters shift gears, operate 24/7

County public health officials, in announcing the stay-at-home order, acknowledged that homeless residents will have trouble taking preventative actions to stay healthy, and encouraged homeless shelters to make space available "as soon as possible and to the maximum extent practicable."

Despite the advice, local shelters have instead had to hit 'pause' before accepting a surge of new people to prevent outbreaks. The nonprofit HomeFirst, which operates shelters in Mountain View and Sunnyvale, announced last week a temporary freeze on any new clients pending a host of changes that can accommodate safe social distancing.

It's been difficult making adjustments on the fly while demand is through the roof. HomeFirst CEO Andrea Urton told the Voice that requests for shelter placement are streaming in, but the goal right now is actually a bed reduction, to make sure there is more space in between each person. The nonprofit's shelters are now open 24 hours day rather than the typical overnight hours, giving the homeless a safe place to stay throughout the day.

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March 28, 2020:

Addressing COVID-19 in the Homeless Community

The County of Santa Clara, City of San Jose, and Continuum of Care Partners are working together to address the needs of homeless individuals affected by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak locally.

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March 25, 2020:

HomeFirst Faces the Challenge of COVID-19 in Emergency Shelters

First, we send our most sincere wishes that you and those you love are safe and healthy.  We hope you are practicing self-care while facing the unique challenges this COVID-19 crisis brings day after day.

As you can imagine, HomeFirst is working nonstop in this new reality – this time of uncertainty. We now have six full-time, 24-hour emergency shelters in operation.

Our staff has responded splendidly – redeploying from their regular responsibilities to staff the shelters. We have more than a dozen open requisitions for shelter staff so as we concentrate on hiring, onboarding and training new staff we have existing staff stepping up, working longer hours and handling sometimes hour to hour challenges. Frankly, our staff rocks!

The necessity of asking our generous meal-calendar volunteers and teams to stay away until the current situation is resolved has put an enormous strain on our staff and New Start resident/volunteer teams. This small team is producing approximately 2,100 meal daily. We are counting the days until we can welcome back all of our faithful volunteers!

Inevitably we are experiencing some food shortages. (Just recently we put out a call for vegetables – fresh, frozen and canned – to be sent to the main shelter at Boccardo Reception Center ATTN: Kitchen Donations 2011 Little Orchard St. San Jose, CA 95125. That need continues.) If you can Instacart us some veggies, it would help so much!

We’ve been humbled by the generosity of the community – especially commercial food providers such as Flights, Hunger at Home and more. Thank you!

The messages of encouragement we are receiving are heartwarming and deeply appreciated. Our Board has been a consistent source of knowledge, with pragmatic assistance as we weather an unprecedented time.

We appreciate the leadership shown to us by Silicon Valley Community Foundation SVCF Covid-19: Unprecedented Crisis, Regional Response offering emergency support grants; The Sobrato Family Foundation proactively asking us and other support agencies what they can do to assist in this crisis and Martha's Kitchen helping us feed our guests with all sites now open 24-hours a day, 7 days a week.

There are so many stories, so many triumphs as we continue to serve. Your support continues to be needed too – perhaps in a more creative way. We need help ensuring that our staff and guests have the equipment they need to protect themselves and others – masks, cleaning supplies, gloves, thermometers and more. 

If you are a seamstress with a sewing machine on hand – please consider making masks. We can supply instruction and materials if needed. If you don’t sew, but can ship or donate cleaning supplies, and gloves – please do.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again … we could not do this without your support. Thank you for being a critical support to HomeFirst and continuing to contribute. 

As always be safe and stay healthy.

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March 13, 2020:

HomeFirst Implements Precautionary Measures in Response to COVID-19 Effective Monday, March 16, 2020

Dear Friends and Families,

In an abundance of caution and with maximum consideration given for the health of our clients, shelter guests, and staff, we at HomeFirst are taking some proactive steps in response to the rapidly changing situation at hand regarding the COVID-19 virus. We are heeding the advice of the CDC, the Governor, and Santa Clara County Public Health in implementing the following actions effective Monday March 16, 2020: 


HomeFirst will not be accepting new client enrollments at our homeless shelters—the Boccardo Reception Center, Sunnyvale Family and Adult Shelter, Mountain View and Gilroy Cold Weather Shelters, and the San José Overnight Warming Locations.  We will take referrals with the clear intention of assigning space as soon as we are able to maintain the recommended social distancing throughout one’s stay.


All workshops and meetings with anticipated attendance or 10 or more participants will be rescheduled or held remotely, i.e. by conference call or video conferencing.


We are asking that our very generous community refrain from donating soft goods, household items, or food to HomeFirst for the foreseeable future.

  • Our immediate needs are laundry detergent, hygiene products, hand sanitizer, face masks, and bleach- or alcohol-based cleaning supplies. 

  • We will accept donations only at our Administrative office (Sobrato Center for Nonprofits, 507 Valley Way, Milpitas, 95035) only on Tuesdays and Thursdays between the hours of 10am and 4pm.  For the time being, we regret that we can accept NO donations at any of our other facilities.

  • We will NOT be accepting any soft donations of any kind--including clothing—until we determine it is safe to do so.


We are not exaggerating in saying that volunteers are the very lifeblood of HomeFirst.  The Annex Volunteer Team members who manage donation stores and set up move-in kits for our housed clients have tremendous positive impact.  The hundreds of groups who come into our facilities to assemble kits, lead workshops and more greatly enhance the experience of our shelter guests.  And the thousands of you who prepare and/or serve meals at the shelters provide huge help for our small kitchen staff.  You all are essential pieces to the operation of our sites!

For the time being, we must insist that ALL volunteers stay away at least until the end of the month when we will re-evaluate measures. 

  • Recurring or on-going volunteer activities will return to their regularly scheduled times when the threat of exposure decreases to safer levels.

  • One-time or Special volunteer projects also will be rescheduled as soon as there is an ‘all clear’ message to implement.

  • All shelter meals will be prepared by our kitchen staff at the Boccardo Reception Center or Martha’s Kitchen, and distributed by staff.  We can accept no deliveries of prepared food from volunteers or delivery groups, such as Food Runners, for the time being.


All HomeFirst offices—including our Administrative office—will be closed to any unscheduled visitors.  All meetings of community groups, advisory/advocacy committees, etc. must be held remotely, not at a shelter site.

social distancing between three people while wearing a facemask
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In addition to the above changes, HomeFirst has already taken steps to mitigate the spread of the virus to our staff and guests. Including:

  • Communicating to staff, via team managers, what to do if they feel they need to be tested for the virus: 

    • Go home/self-isolate

    • Call Kaiser (or your own health insurance provider) to speak with an Advice Nurse about your symptoms

    • If advised to do so, utilizing one of the ‘drive through’ screening locations

  •  Implementing protocols for shelter guests:

    • Providing isolation space for those who are symptomatic

    • Identifying for Clinic Staff those who experiencing symptoms

    • Setting up beds and mats for head-to-toe orientation and providing the recommended six feet of personal space

Thank you for your assistance while we navigate through this challenging time.  We so appreciate your support and will keep you up to date with any developments as they occur.  Now is a terrific time to give a little (or a lot!) to support the charities who are doing so much with so little.  We thank you for your continued support!

Please know that these steps are simply to keep everyone healthy. Feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns you may have at

In Gratitude,

Andrea Urton

Chief Executive Officer

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