HomeFirst: How homeless are being helped in Santa Clara County
The Sunnyvale homeless shelter is open year-round and serves up to 140 people. File photo.

    On behalf of HomeFirst Services, we’d like to thank Jerome Shaw, a leader in the Sunnyvale Clients Collaborative — a union of homeless shelter residents in the region — for providing a frank assessment in his San José Spotlight In Your Backyard column.

    To prevent and end homelessness, it’s imperative we hear from voices like Jerome’s. After all, those with lived experiences of homelessness typically have the best understanding of the reality of our work.

    At HomeFirst Services, we agree with Jerome. We are on his side in that our ultimate goal is to uplift the community. Low-barrier shelters are best practice nationwide. To that end, we have done our best to be low barrier so we can servie as many people as possible with dignity, respect and safety.

    The Sunnyvale Emergency Shelter, which originated as a cold weather shelter program, is open year-round and regularly serves up to 140 individuals and families nightly. During the pandemic, in order to provide appropriate social distancing, we are serving fewer guests. At present the census is closer to 77 individuals — including six families with a total of nine children.

    A licensed clinical social worker leads a team of three case managers in supporting shelter guests, along with case managers assigned from outside agencies.

    Although staying sober is not a barrier to staying at the shelter, drugs and alcohol are not allowed on shelter property. The requirement is that individuals are capable of managing their needs and maintaining proper behavior.

    Our shelter staff and the on-site case managers monitor and address behavioral concerns in order to maintain the safety of our individuals and families.

    And although the shelter is a former warehouse, now an open floor plan, we designate a special sleeping space for families that includes a separation barrier. Our staff judiciously monitors people entering the facility. We provide 24-hour on site security and search personal belongings to ensure no drugs, alcohol or weapons are brought into the shelter.

    The Sunnyvale Emergency Shelter is a safe facility. Our well-trained staff does its best with our limited resources. Ultimately, we agree with you, Jerome. Children are exposed to those under the influence and/or struggling with mental health challenges.

    In a perfect world, there would be no need for homeless shelters. In the meantime, we wish we could offer families separate family shelters, yet consider how many housed families in our community face similar issues with drug and/or alcohol dependency or mental health issues. We look forward to the day when those who need them are offered specialized services without stigma.

    HomeFirst Services is working toward the ultimate goal of ending homelessness. In the meantime, we are exploring innovative options and incubator ideas such as diversified shelters for specific groups such as families, domestic violence survivors, veterans, LGBTQ, etc.

    Unfortunately, our county is struggling to provide services for any and all unhoused residents today. The truth is that everyone across the board in every homelessness service — whether it’s a shelter operation or housing program — lacks resources to fulfill these needs.

    These are goals HomeFirst has talked about and continues to develop but with the current county budget crisis, we simply aren’t able to bring them to fruition. That’s why we rely more than ever on private donations. Please donate to HomeFirst Services, so we can address and solve Jerome’s valid concerns.

    HomeFirst Services offers services to Santa Clara County’s homeless and at-risk population.


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