Homeless families get keys to new tiny houses in Santa Clara County

    For most, a 100-square-foot room would be barely enough space for a closet or a knick-knack storage room. For others, it now means getting off the street.

    “My daughters are very excited to have their own tiny home and are grateful to be here,” said Arely in Spanish through a translator. She did not want to give her last name.

    Arely and her family will be among the first homeless residents to move into Casitas de Esperanza at the Civic Center, a community of 25 tiny homes at 801 N. First St. that can accommodate up to 100 people.

    Santa Clara County officials, including supervisors Otto Lee and Cindy Chavez and County Supportive Housing Director Consuelo Hernandez, were on hand Monday to open the center.

    “The families that are participating in this program are dealing with a lot of trauma being homeless,” said Hernandez. “These little houses of hope will give them the critical services that they need in order to transition into permanent housing.”

    Casitas de Esperanza translates to “small houses of hope” in Spanish.

    An exterior shot of a tiny home. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

    Each home has four foldable bunks that can double as tables, shelving, a space heater and an air conditioning unit. Up to four people can live in a unit. Eight-five percent of the community’s electrical needs are being supplied with a solar power grid.

    The project also includes two staff offices, bathroom trailers and a 400-square-foot community room where children can take part in gardening and other social activities. Cisco is providing internet in a partnership with the nonprofit Destination: Home.

    Casitas de Esperanza’s units were assembled by workers who were once themselves unhoused.

    As of Monday, at least four families had moved in; more are expected in the coming weeks.

    The county will prioritize unhoused families with at least one minor child to live in the homes. Each family will stay an average of 120 days, according to the county.

    Bunk beds inside a tiny home can turn into tables. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

    Amigos de Guadalupe, a San Jose-based youth advocacy nonprofit, will run the site’s day-to-day operations. Amigos will provide case managers and around-the-clock property managers. Project WeHope, a food insecurity nonprofit based in East Palo Alto, will service the community’s toilet and shower trailers and will bring a laundry trailer on-site four days a week.

    “We know one of the greatest contributors of homelessness is feeling isolation and disconnection that marginalizes our homeless population,” said Maritza Maldonado, the executive director of Amigos de Guadalupe. “Creating points of connection through case management … and providing appropriate services allows families to reconnect to the world around them.”

    Tiny homes are organized into rows. Bathroom trailers are also provided. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

    San Jose has looked to tiny homes multiple times to solve the region’s unhoused family crisis. Mayor Sam Liccardo has advocated for such communities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic to help control the spread of the virus among homeless residents.

    Similar projects, such as Project Homekey which rehabs motels into semi-permanent housing for the unhoused, have faced scrutiny from some residents who are concerned ideas like these override the wishes of local residents.

    In March 2019, homeless advocates and the county found themselves at odds with what to do with the site. Advocates wanted to renovate the old city hall building near the Casitas site and use it as a homeless shelter, while the county said the idea wasn’t feasible. According to one of the advocates, the movement had $16 million raised before the county rejected the plan.

    Casitas is part of the county’s multi-year Plan to End Homelessness, which looks to house 20,000 people by 2025. The $1.4 million project was paid for from the county’s general fund and state grants, according to Hernandez.

    Interested families need to apply through the county’s shelter hotline. The goal is to transition families to permanent housing. The tiny houses eventually will be removed after approximately two years and permanent housing for unhoused individuals will be constructed on the site.

    Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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