Ron Hilla, a homeless bearded man in a cowboy hat and tan jacket at a table in St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Los Gatos.
Ron Hilla has been homeless for 11 years and said the hotel program in Los Gatos is the first time he's seen the town step up to address the issue. Photo by Annalise Freimarck.

Ron Hilla has been homeless for about 11 years, and has seen so many of his friends die on the streets, he can’t count them all on his hands.

The 65-year-old’s life fell apart when his health forced him to quit his more than 40-year career in construction, landing him on the Los Gatos Creek Trail with tarps, his guitar and a bike he cobbled together. He’s on the waitlist for Section 8 housing.

The Los Gatos Hotel program offers Hilla a brief reprieve from life outside. The program, approved last April and implemented last December, provides a select group of unhoused people temporary hotel rooms during extreme weather conditions, such as recent atmospheric rivers. Town and faith leaders at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Los Gatos United Methodist Church and St. Vincent de Paul at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception run the program.

After nine years in Los Gatos, Hilla said this is the first time he’s experienced the town investing in its unhoused population.

“Sometimes all you need is a night’s sleep and a shower or something to get back up and face the world,” he told San José Spotlight. “It’s a step in the right direction.”

But the program is selective in the people it helps and is not entirely a town-supported effort.


The Los Gatos Town Council approved funding for the hotel program last April, allocating $50,000 of American Rescue Plan funding toward homeless services. Mayor Mary Badame was the only no vote. Approximately $20,000 funded the program and the remainder funded hygiene needs, such as portable showers at a church.

“We are proud of our hotel program serving the homeless during inclement weather,” Badame told San José Spotlight, who is now a supporter. “In turn, the unhoused have been grateful for the program.”

This month, the program almost ran out of the initial $20,000 after town officials booked 145 rooms at the three participating hotels — the Los Gatos Lodge, the Garden Inn and the Best Western Inn — and assisted in a medical stay over the span of 15 nights, Assistant Town Manager Katy Nomura told San José Spotlight. The program has served 14 people since Feb. 2.

Los Gatos requested $10,000 from Santa Clara County’s $50,000 allocation set aside last year to address homelessness in the town. The balance will fund case management services. Officials are also pursuing an additional $5,000 grant for the program.

Jo Greiner, outreach coordinator for St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, is glad the town has approved a homeless program and works with various faith organizations. Photo by Annalise Freimarck.

Jo Greiner, outreach coordinator for St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and founder of the pantry program, said she’s grateful for the town’s efforts, after seeing some unhoused people become hypothermic due to the weather.

“We finally said, ‘Wait a minute. We need help here. We’ve been doing this all these years,’” she told San José Spotlight.


Approximately 19 unhoused people are allowed to participate in the program, out of the estimated 50 who live in town, according to Nomura and the town’s latest point in time count, a biennial survey of the number of homeless people living in Santa Clara County. Nomura said the town estimates its number of unhoused people to be much lower.

To receive the program’s help, unhoused people in Los Gatos must use town services, such St. Luke’s food pantry, for at least three months and be mentally stable to stay in a hotel without causing a disturbance. This excludes people battling addiction and serious mental health issues. When these individuals come into contact with the Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department they are directed to the county’s Here4You hotline to find shelter closest to them, most likely outside of Los Gatos.

The Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Hilla, whose children live in Campbell, said he wants to stay in Los Gatos with his community where he feels safe, but there is no interim housing in town. There are some affordable housing options available, but the town is still struggling to get its housing plan approved, more than a year past the state’s Jan. 31, 2023 deadline.

Councilmember Rob Moore said he would like to see transitional and permanent supportive housing, but noted the town shouldn’t get hung up on trying to make homeless service programs perfect.

“I would love to get to a point where we can provide robust, permanent supportive housing solutions for our homeless residents, but I think right now we are laying the groundwork, and we’re really just beginning,” he told San José Spotlight.

For now, Hilla will continue participating in the program, holding out hope for permanent shelter while living along the Los Gatos Creek.

“It’s just up to the town and the people to vote and sanction some lands,” he said. “Get this done. It should have been done a long time ago. (This is) baby steps and I’m thinking that this hotel thing is at least a small step.”

Contact Annalise Freimarck at [email protected] or follow @annalise_ellen on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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