County expands homeless programs while searching for new shelter

Santa Clara County supervisors approve $1.2 million to develop new programs for the homeless

Faced with a shortage of beds to accommodate the county's homeless population this coming winter, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved $1.2 million for various programs targeting its neediest residents, including agreements with the nonprofit, InnVision Shelter Network.

The aid package was prompted by the recent closure of the old Sunnyvale Armory, which has served for decades as a cold-weather shelter for the homeless. Now slated for redevelopment, the armory site had offered about 125 beds. Its closure left county officials scrambling to find new locations for a cold-weather shelter. Supervisor Joe Simitian, who made the motion Tuesday to approve the funds, said that for the county, "Time is our enemy."

"The cold weather months will be on us shortly," Simitian said in a statement. "Folks who used to find shelter at the Sunnyvale Armory will need somewhere else to go."

Simitian, who on Aug. 18 updated the Palo Alto City Council on the county's search for the shelter, said officials had identified two potential sites. The first plan, to open a shelter on a different Sunnyvale site, was rejected by the city. The county then turned its attention to Mountain View, only to see that site purchased by someone else just as the county was preparing to make its offer.

Finding a place for a homeless shelter, Simitian told the Palo Alto council, is "very much on the top of our to-do list." He noted that four people died last year during an unexpected cold spell and said in a statement Tuesday that this "can't be allowed to happen again."

With its unanimous vote, the county allocated up to $770,000 to HomeFirst or other providers of housing programs to lease and operate a homeless shelter at a site to be determined. The funds would be used to establish an emergency shelter capable of accommodating at least 50 individuals, though the location remains a major wildcard with just three months left until the cold-weather season.

The issue of homelessness became particularly pronounced in Palo Alto a year ago, when the City Council agreed to clamp down on what had become in the words of City Manager James Keene a "de facto homeless shelter" at Cubberley Community Center. While agreeing to keep Cubberley closed at night, the council also agreed to pass a new law banning people from living in their cars, though enactment of the law was suspended after a similar ordinance in Los Angeles was struck down by a court decision.

The closure of Cubberley, coupled with city's severe shortage of affordable housing, prompted concerns from homeless advocates about where the displaced residents will go. The challenge of supporting the homeless population this coming winter has been further compounded this year by the struggles of the nonprofit Innvision Shelter Network to fund its Palo Alto-specific programs. The nonprofit operates the drop-in center at the Opportunity Center and runs Hotel de Zink, which operates emergency shelters at local churches, as well as the food programs Breaking Bread and the Food Closet.

Faced with gaping budget deficit of more than $500,000 in its Palo Alto programs, the nonprofit has been searching for new funding and adjusting its programs. As the Weekly reported last month, the nonprofit recently reduced the Breaking Bread program from seven to five days a week, saving $22,000 annually. In addition, InnVision Shelter Network will be handing off operation of the Palo Alto Food Closet to the Palo Alto-based Downtown Streets Team, which will save about $50,000 annually.

Though the funding challenges remain, the package of services that the supervisors approved Tuesday offers the Network a rare opportunity to expand its services in the north county. The Board of Supervisors agreed to allocate $125,400 to the nonprofit and to Project WeHOPE in East Palo Alto to increase the number of shelter beds and to help these organizations establish the new shelter programs.

Specifically, the agreement would allow InnVision Shelter Network to expand its rotating shelter, Hotel de Zink, for 90 days during the cold-weather season. The $75,000 allocation would allow the nonprofit to double its number of "enhanced shelter beds" (which can be reserved on a night-by-night basis and which come with case-management services, according to a county staff report) from 18 to 36 during this period. Project WeHOPE, which currently offers five beds of emergency shelter and case management, would be able to serve an additional 10 people under the additional $50,400 offered by the county.

In addition, the county approved a $163,200 agreement with the Network to implement a new motel-voucher program, targeting homeless families with children. County officials estimate that there are 34 homeless, three-person families in Palo Alto, Mountain View and Sunnyvale on any given night, according to a report from Nancy Pena, the county's director of mental health. The new program would have the ability to place 34 families in motels for up to eight weeks each. The Network operates a similar program in San Mateo County.

"This has been a successful approach in other areas, and I think it opens up a whole new set of possibilities," Simitian said of the motel-voucher program. "Finding suitable space for homeless families has been a long-time challenge in Santa Clara County."

Mila Zelkha, director of real estate and facilities for InnVision Shelter Network, agreed and said the plan approved by the board "helps to provide additional options for those among us who are in crisis."

The county also included $100,000 for outreach programs during particularly cold nights. The county would work with outreach teams from community-based organizations to "distribute cold weather gear, disseminate information about available services and provide information about how to recognize and prevent cold weather injury," Pena's report states.

"The purpose of the inclement-weather outreach activities is to identify and intervene on behalf of individuals who are suffering from or at-risk of cold weather injuries," Pena wrote. "Depending on the severity of their condition and overall health, some individuals could be transported to local hospitals while others could be offered one-night motel stays."

While these steps are intended to dent the impact of the Armory's closure, the county still hopes to find a replacement site in the near future.

The Board also included a provision for expanding other homelessness reduction and prevention programs in the event that a large shelter facility cannot be found in time for winter. Staff had initially recommended using $670,000 for these programs in the event a new shelter can't be opened.

The board ultimately agreed that, absent a new shelter, between half and a third of these funds would be added to the motel-voucher program. Simitian, who recommended the revised approach, said that while solving the problem of homelessness is a worthy goal, it's important to include funds for a near-term solution.

"We've got about three months before the weather turns sour and we have 125 folks who used to have a place to put their heads down and who don't have a place to put their heads down anymore," Simitian told the Weekly. "That's my immediate concern."

Simitian said the county will continue to search for a suitable shelter site but stressed the importance of having a "fall-back plan" if such a site doesn't emerge soon.

"The bad news is we're having a tough time finding a suitable shelter site," Simitian said. "The good news is we've got a fallback plan if no site emerges in the immediate future."


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 26, 2014 at 8:13 pm

Look for an uptick in crime Palo Alto as we take on the Sunnyvale homeless.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Compassion
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Aug 26, 2014 at 11:44 pm

Women and families with young children should be the priority. Also a brief assessment as to why they are homeless. For those who have chosen to live on the street (yes, there are people, both men and women, who refuse to participate in our society that requires people to pay for their own dwellings), they can continue to live as they wish - on the street.

For those that have suffered bad luck, poor decisions, or job loss, but are trying to get back on their feet, they deserve our help and compassion. Let's open our churches, auditoriums, community centers, and even school gymnasiums to provide shelter for women and families that are truly trying to get back on their feet. They can check in at 7:00pm, and leave by 7:00am. That's 12 hours of warmth and safety to enable them to look for jobs.

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Posted by Compassion
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Aug 26, 2014 at 11:49 pm

Clarification: from 7:00pm to 7:00am they can rest and bathe in at least a sink, so they can be ready to look for a job during the day.

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Posted by Chuck Jagoda
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 27, 2014 at 11:08 am

Chuck Jagoda is a registered user.

Dear Mr/Ms Recycle: Look for an uptick in our morality; charity; and feel good indices as we in Palo Alto take on the responsibility Jesus gave when He said: "As you do to the least of thy brethren you do unto Me."

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Chuck Jagoda
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 27, 2014 at 11:20 am

Chuck Jagoda is a registered user.

Dear Mr/Ms Compassion: I note a very traditional-- yet highly sexist-- POV in your statement that "Women and families with young children should be the priority." What have you got against single homeless folks? You don't think we suffer enough? Or don't deserve help because our homelessness is our own fault?

I note in your two following sentences-- "Also a brief assessment as to why they are homeless. For those who have chosen to live on the street (yes, there are people, both men and women, who refuse to participate in our society that requires people to pay for their own dwellings), they can continue to live as they wish - on the street." that you see a place for judgement of people's decisions.

Is there something wrong with a woman deciding that she'd rather live in a shelter or her car than put up with psychological abuse; sexual abuse; or physical abuse where she's been staying? Who are you to pass judgement on people's life decisions? Did you ever think that the decisions of cracker-jack take over artists like Mitt Romney have disappeared (off shored)many jobs and going homeless is not so much a choice as an attempt to survive?

Why not do something to move Palo Alto (and other cities) off their collective duffs and build the "affordable housing" so obviously lacking hereabouts? If it had been built in previous years we would not have the crushing lack of it we now have. If we continue to let greed for rising land values rule-- we will most assuredly have these same problems--only worse-- in succeeding years.

[Portion removed due to disrespectful comment]

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Posted by traceychen
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 27, 2014 at 12:00 pm

if i don't get some freaking help here soon I'M going to be joining the homeless soon...I am mid the divorce from hell [Post removed due to disrespectful comment]....i have PTSD and can't do a lot of computer/phone/communication things people TAKE FOR GRANTED and assume i can...i have severe nerve damage/spinal stenosis...but you can't SEE it...i just can't use my limbs (especially my arms/hands/fingers) like others...and the pain is exhausting 24/7/ i need a human with tech skills and good communication skills ...i've needed one for two one believes i'm out of money to pay them (i tried taking in homeless people off the internet ...they didn't do much beyond sitting on my couch and drink beer till i kicked them out and/or paid for their tickets out of town)....IF InnVision has SKILLED homeless who can help....i have room and bath and can take more in on airbed in living room BUT...i have very very very specific disabilities myself: NO ONE with chemicals/scents can be in my illnesses/overreactively to them all is awful...i dont' mind dirt, i dont' mind pets (even though i'm allergic..i have easy-clean floors, laundry, shower, even pool..that i can't afford..i even have dance floor..of course that's where they'd have to put the airbeds if i took in more than one....let them know

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Posted by traceychen
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 27, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Chuck Jagoda..i just now read your comments..BRAVO SIR...where are the others like us in this fascist town!

 +   Like this comment
Posted by traceychen
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 27, 2014 at 6:45 pm

[Post removed due to excessive and/or repetitive post by same poster]

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Posted by Compassion
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Aug 27, 2014 at 11:49 pm


I have nothing against singles - I simply said I thought women AND families with children should be given priority. I should have made my opinion more clear - women and children are much more vulnerable on the street, hence my belief they should be given priority for shelter space. I never said men, or singles of either sex, should be denied space.

I certainly never said anything about homelessness being anyone's "fault," so I refuse to take that bait.

I also didn't say, imply, or mean a woman should stay in an abusive situation.

Not sure what your angle is, but it certainly doesn't help the homeless.

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Posted by neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 28, 2014 at 8:53 am

Santa Clara County is large with Palo Alto at the northernmost extremity (try driving to County HQ offices down in San Jose sometime). Why county Supervisers insist on bringing more homeless and homeless services to Palo Alto is beyond me. How about central locations, near transit, less expensive areas, especially downtown San Jose. That makes more sense than contorting to try to jam in homeless here in Palo Alto.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Caradag
a resident of Stanford
on Aug 28, 2014 at 8:07 pm

1.2 million isn't going to go very far in regards to renting or leasing real estate.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Aug 28, 2014 at 10:16 pm

An article in the SJM on this subject pinpointed Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Palo Alto as possible locations. There was no mention of Gilroy, Morgan Hill, central San Jose, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Portola Valley. Why are specific cities targeted and when others are not targeted.
Reality 1 is that Palo Alto does not have space - it is built border to border. If you go south in the county there is extensive unbuilt land, or land that is "for lease" for a very long time.
Reality 2 is that available space in other areas is being converted to businesses which result in added tax base to the cities. A homeless shelter does not add tax bases - it reduces tax base. The Agnew center in San Jose is being rebuilt for schools so that is a good upgrade for that property.

My best idea is the old Safeway in Mountain View in the San Antonio complex. The building is just sitting there empty. It could also be the new FRY's. It is centrally located.

Cubberly needs to be converted back to a school use - it is centrally located in an area with high use for children, even after school for all age of bands - music. Any area that is high use for children and teens is off limits for homeless.

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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 2, 2014 at 9:06 am

It is now coming into the fall / winter time period. The city of San Jose is tying to clear the homeless camps on the Coyote Creek. I have observed homeless in San Francisquito Creek. Sunnyvale has shut down the armory to turn it into a tax assessment site.

This brings to mind the Agnew center on Zanker in San Jose which sat empty for a number of years while it was raining and cold outside. It is now going to be converted into a school to support the local growth in the area.

It is time to review the county and state owned facilities in the county which are not being used. There are many properties which could be temporarily converted for the winter season. This includes areas for storage of equipment which can be moved to a different location.
This is a county/state issue and there are facilities which are available for temporary use. City budgets should not be expected to be used for this purpose - cities are trying to solve their infrastructure problems.

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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 2, 2014 at 8:38 pm

@ resident 1: Portola Valley is in San Mateo County, not SCCo.

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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 3, 2014 at 4:55 pm

Note on community centers - Sunnyvale determined that the use of their community center was inappropriate for the purpose of sheltering the homeless. I have been to their community center - it is extremely well done with a theatre, senior center, gym, and meeting rooms. I get their point here.

Use of churches - note that churches have to maintain the upkeep of their facilities the same as anyone else. They have to pay for insurance which qualifies how the property is used. Throwing that out as a given disregards the whole budget process the church has to work with, as well as the added security required to house people in their facilities who are not members of the church. When you house people in a facility it is subject to increased wear and tare.

Compassion is just throwing out anything that comes to mind with no thought to the insurance and financial requirements involved in this matter. If compassion had a number of people in their house who were not family members or known people then they would be very uncomfortable and it would be a full time job to coordinate the whole event.

Again - the county has properties that are not currently being used which can be allocated for this purpose. The organization that is conducting the search should have the capability to know and review the listings of available properties. That is what they are getting paid for. And if county property then you are not renting or leasing - you are just covering the cost for utilities and security. People have to be paid to be there all night with the people - that is what the money is suppose to be used for.

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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 4, 2014 at 12:19 pm

Another story in the SJM concerning the homeless - just story - no conclusions. I an concerned that there always stories and no conclusions - like we are paying people to do something but they are floundering. Maybe we are being painted into a corner if we view this as a county problem. It occurred to me that Candlestick Park could be maintained over the winter before tear down. It has extensive bathroom facilities in tunnels and lower covered areas that should now be vacant. It also has extensive food preparation areas. Anything that can provide coverage should be good for the cold rainy season. I am not suggesting the field - though that would be useful on good days for activity and exercise. That is in San Mateo County but due to size could hold a lot of people.

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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 12, 2014 at 7:49 am

Article in the SJM today on the sale of the Agnews Center to the Santa Clara School District. The important fact is that the Agnews Center was part of the inventory of the California Department of General Services which oversees the disposition of surplus property.

That is the starting point for a search for a location for the homeless people. Check if the Countys have a similar listing - or properties included in that listing.

Yes - many problems associated with this as the state has to provide the insurance and over-site of the people while on the property. The property will be subject to wear and tear. Someone has provided funding to the non-profits who are in the search - who is providing the funding for the insurance and over-site once the people are located on a property.

This is not a city funded issue - it is a county / state funded issue.

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